If you slip and fall on government property, is the governmental entity automatically responsible for your injuries and other losses? If the government was negligent in its maintenance and upkeep of the property, the answer is generally yes, except that there are important limitations on an injured person’s right to sue.
The key thing to know is that the government -- whether at the federal, state, or local level -- has passed laws that place strict procedural requirements on the filing of any injury claim against it. Read on to learn more about making a slip and fall claim against the government.
Apart from the procedural side of things (which we'll cover in the next section), from a general premises liability standpoint, just like a private individual or business, a government entity is only liable for a slip and fall accident if:
Whether it's the post office, the DMV, or some other government-owned property, simply because you fell does not mean that the government authority that owns or manages the property is legally liable. There had to have been some unsafe condition or other problem that made the property unsafe under the circumstances. Further, in order to prove that the governmental entity was negligent, you must prove that it knew or should reasonably have known of the unsafe condition, and failed to take sensible steps to fix the problem.
Learn more about proving fault for accidents on dangerous or defective property.
The federal government and almost all states have strict rules that must be followed if you wish to file a lawsuit against the government. The first rule is a "notice" requirement.
So, before you can sue the federal government, the state, or a municipality, you must usually file a formal notice of injury with the proper governmental entity. The federal government and each state might have different notice requirements, but the notice must typically include the following information:
Depending on which government you wish to sue, the deadline for sending this notice could be as short as 30 days.
While procedural schemes vary, you can only take your slip and fall injury claim to court (by filing a personal injury lawsuit against the government) after you've given the government proper notice of the claim, and the government has been given sufficient time to either formally deny the claim or take no action on it.
Finally, keep in mind that there may be a statutory limit on the amount of damages (compensation) you can recover from the state or municipality even if your claim is successful.
Learn more about injury claims against the federal government.
It is critical that you send the notice to the right office. Your claim may be barred if you send your notice to the wrong place, even though it might just be down the hall from the right office. Moreover, you have to make sure that you make your claim against the proper governmental entity in the first place.
Let’s say, for example, that you slip and fall on the sidewalk in front of a federal government building. You assume that the city owns the sidewalk, and so you give notice to the city. But federal law -- or the contract between the federal government and city for the use of the building -- might state that it is the federal government, not the city, that owns the sidewalk in front of the federal building. In this case, the city would not be liable. If you didn’t give notice to the proper division of the federal government within the proper time period, your claim will probably be barred.
To make sure that you satisfy the proper notification requirements if you are injured on governmental property, contact the administrative offices of the relevant agency or entity. Make as many phone calls as necessary until you get the answers you need in terms of where and when to send notice. Or, you can always contact a personal injury lawyer.
After any slip and fall accident, you should take pictures of the accident scene, your clothes, and any visible injuries you might have received as soon as you are able to do so. It cannot be emphasized enough that a picture is worth a thousand words in a slip and fall case. Broken sidewalks or stairs can be fixed. Ice can melt, or it can be cleared away. It can be difficult or impossible to win a case that hinges on the negligent accumulation of ice or snow, without pictures showing the state of the accumulation as it was at the moment of your accident.
Learn more about proving fault for a slip and fall.