Craig Rosenbaum | March 25, 2023 | Personal Injury
Suing a person or a corporation is one matter. Suing the government is another; any compensation you receive will ultimately come out of the pockets of the taxpayers. If you are a taxpayer in the jurisdiction, your compensation will come partly out of your own pocket since your taxes help fund the government.
Sovereign immunity is an ancient legal concept originally expressed as “The king can do no wrong.” Ultimately, it means you cannot sue the government without its consent. When it comes to a personal injury claim, however, you will probably be able to use to sue a city for negligence.
The New York Tort Claims Act
Fortunately, New York State has passed a law that allows people to sue the government under certain circumstances. Since all city governments within New York are subdivisions of the state government, if you can sue the state then you can sue the city.
What Kind of Claims You Can File
New York allows you to file most kinds of personal injury lawsuits against it, as long as the at-fault party was a government employee acting within the scope of their employment. You can sue a city for all kinds of negligence-based personal injury claims, ranging from car accidents to premises liability.This includes, for example, the situation where an on-duty driver working for a city negligently causes a car accident that injured you.
The Notice of Claim
Let’s take the case of New York City, since it is the most populous city in the state. Its procedures are not radially different from the procedures you could use to sue most other cities within the state.
First, whom exactly will you sue? You must identify the appropriate subdivision of the city government. For example, you might sue the NYC Department of Sanitation if you were hit by a garbage truck. The initial document you file is called the Notice of Claim, which you must file within 90 days of your accident (you can ask the court for an extension to file). The Notice of Claim includes information such as:
- Your name and address;
- Your attorney’s name and address;
- Information about your claim (a truck accident claim, for example);
- Information about your accident and your injuries; and
- How much compensation you are asking for.
You can’t just mail your Notice of Claim to the city. It must be formally served on the appropriate city official using certain legal methods. You cannot serve it yourself. NYC then has 30 days to schedule a preliminary hearing. Meanwhile, it will investigate your claim. The city can even demand that you submit to a medical examination conducted by a doctor of their choosing.
The city will schedule a hearing unless it is willing to accept your claim without resorting to a hearing. At the hearing:
- You will give testimony under oath about the facts of your case and your injury.
- All questions and answers are documented for the record.
- Your attorney will advise you and prepare you for the hearing and will be with you throughout the process. You don’t have to bring an attorney, but you should.
After the hearing, the city will contact you with its response to your claim. You cannot file a lawsuit against NYC or any of its subdivisions until the hearing is complete.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit With a New York State Court
If the city turns down your demand, you can file an ordinary personal injury lawsuit seeking to enforce your claim. Procedurally, this lawsuit works like any other lawsuit. By this time, you will have jumped through all the hoops necessitated by the fact that you are suing a government.
The Statute of Limitations
Generally speaking, you must file a lawsuit within one year and 90 days after your accident or injury. If you are the personal representative of a deceased victim’s probate estate and seek to file a wrongful death lawsuit, you have until two years after the victim’s date of death to file. Although limited exceptions to these deadlines exist, your claim will become worthless if you miss the applicable deadline.
Contact a Lawyer With Experience Suing the Government
If you have a claim against a city, especially NYC, an ordinary personal injury lawyer may not be able to help you effectively. Instead, you need a lawyer with experience suing a city for negligence. Your chances of winning improve considerably if you hire a lawyer with the right experience.