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Have you ever been to San Francisco's city hall? Like so many across the nation, it's huge and beautiful. Inside, past security and a dark hallway, you enter into a bright atrium with a grand staircase and a beautiful dome. But let's say as you walk up the staircase to get your picture taken, you slip on a puddle, fall backwards, bonk your head, and break a leg.
If this happened in a store, you would sue the store owner for your slip and fall. But, can you sue the government for a fall in city hall?
Suing City Hall
The short answer is yes. (And of course, by city hall, we mean essentially any property that is controlled and operated by some sector of government.) The longer answer is more complicated.
Before, most cities, states, and the federal government had sovereign immunities laws that prevented individuals from suing the government for injuries or damages. However, the Federal Tort Claims Act, passed in 1946, allowed private parties to sue the federal government for torts committed by people acting on behalf of the federal government.
Most other states also have passed their own laws that allow people to sue their local government for injuries. Going back to S.F. for a moment, California's Government Code section 945 states, "A public entity may sue and be sued." These laws do vary state by state. Some states only allow people to sue if the government was negligent. Some states only allow claims for injuries caused by "special defects" that present unusual and unexpected dangers.
How To Sue
Against any other defendant, you would go straight to court and file a lawsuit. But, the government is a bureaucracy, and bureaucracies love hurdles.
File a Claim First
Once you've filed a claim, the government will review your claim and either accept it and compensate you for your injury, or deny your claim. If, and only after, your claim is denied, you can file a lawsuit to sue the government.
Statute of Limitation
If you want to file a claim against the government, don't dawdle. Most states have shorter statutes of limitations on claims against the government. A statute of limitation is a time limit on when you can bring a claim or lawsuit for your injury. In California, you must file a claim with the government within six months of an injury. If your claim is denied, you must file your lawsuit within six months of receiving the denial of claim.
If you've been injured by an accident on government property, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your claim is timely and properly filed. Because if you do it right, you can sue city hall. And win.