When you are injured on public or city property or due to the negligence of a municipal employee, it is possible to file an insurance claim with the city. Though more complex than claims involving private individuals or privately owned businesses or property, personal injury lawsuits against a municipal entity can also be filed.
Following are the essential and initial steps involved in building a claim against a municipal government.
File a “Notice of Claim”
Most state laws require you file a “Notice of Claim” with the city before you are able to file a lawsuit. The Notice of Claim details:
- the circumstances of the accident,
- your resulting injuries,
- and the amount of damages you are seeking from the city.
The information that must appear in a Notice of Claim varies from one state to the next, so you need to know what the local requirements are before submitting a notice.
The Notice of claim must also:
- be filed with the appropriate government entity
- and within the timeframe dictated by local or state laws.
A personal injury attorney can assist you in determining the requirements for submitting a notice in your local jurisdiction and can also help you structure the notice to build a strong insurance claim and lawsuit.
Municipal governments sometimes offer settlements to claimants after receiving Notices of Claims. The notice you provide the city serves as a “demand letter” in your personal injury claim. It must therefore make a strong argument regarding:
- The city’s negligence
- How that negligence caused your injuries
A personal injury attorney can help you build a strong basis for a claim and a lawsuit. They can handle negotiations regarding any settlement offered by the city and can potentially get you a fairer settlement as well.
Building a Lawsuit
Although cities sometimes offer settlements to avoid lawsuits, your claim may be denied. Cities commonly deny claims, hoping claimants will decide to avoid lawsuit expenses. If your injuries are severe and you can prove negligence however, suing may be a practical move.
From the start, you must work with the idea you may not receive a fair settlement and may need to proceed to trial. Establishing negligence is essential to getting a settlement offer and for having a viable lawsuit too. To build a negligence claim against the city, there are three key elements you must establish:
- That the city has a duty to ensure safe conditions – known as “duty of care”
- That the city breached its duty in creating the conditions or circumstances that lead to your injuries – known as “breach of duty”
- That you suffered injuries, meaning injuries proven through evidence and considered “actual injuries” under the law
Actual injuries are injuries that can be directly tied to an accident through evidence. They are often physical in nature. Less tangible injuries, like pain and suffering, can also be considered “actual” under the law as long as you have compelling evidence to support your claim.
Evidence needed for a personal injury claim or lawsuit against the city may include:
- Photographs, documenting the accident scene and/or your injuries
- Witness statements, attesting to the circumstances of the accident or the city’s breach of duty
- Medical bills and records, documenting your injuries
- Statements, reports, or testimony from physicians and other experts, establishing the severity of your injuries and other details of your claim
Lawsuit Limitations and Immunity Considerations
Suing a city for personal injuries is more complicated than a lawsuit against a private individual for a number of reasons:
- You must know the correct authority or office with which to file a Notice of Claim
- You must submit a notice of claim within prescribed deadlines according to local/state laws
- You must prove negligence and breach of duty beyond a doubt in order to receive compensation
- You must have acted responsibly and without negligence in order to receive damages
- Your claim must not contradict local/state immunity limitations designed to protect the city from negligence claims under a variety of circumstances
Immunity under the law is guaranteed for cities under many circumstances and lawsuits are often dismissed due to the situation under which injuries occurred. For example, accidents that happen when police or emergency medical personnel are responding to 911 calls rarely make it to court.
Consulting with a personal injury attorney can help you determine if you have a lawsuit against the city. An attorney can also help you establish the “first burden” of proof in your claim, which is to show the city was negligent and therefore responsible for your injuries.