Even government agencies can be guilty of negligence. If you or a loved one were injured on local, state, or federal property due to the governing body’s negligence or a state actor or employee injures you, you might be entitled to receive compensation. Sovereign Immunity used to protect the government from all implications of guilt, but in 1948, Congress accepted that the government should be held accountable as well. The Congress instated the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) that allows people to file personal injury claims and lawsuits against the federal government.
Many states followed the federal footsteps and have enacted Tort statutes of their own. North Carolina is one of those states. The North Carolina Tort Claims Act (NCTCA) defines the limits of the state’s immunity to certain types of claims. So, while the liability limits and claims process are different than private entities, the federal government and North Carolina can be held accountable for negligence.
Common Injuries in Public Places and on Government Property
Many properties fall under government jurisdiction, including public parks, public museums, government buildings, public sidewalks, roadways, and more. Local, state, and federal offices are responsible for maintaining these properties and preventing harm to visitors as much as is reasonably possible. The government is also responsible for its employees’ actions (or inactions) when they are on duty.
The most common injuries to occur on public property include:
- slips and falls due to improper maintenance or standard precautions
- auto accidents caused by improper road maintenance or faulty traffic signals
- auto accidents caused by government employees
- injuries from public transportation, such as buses and trains
- assaults in public schools
- assaults from a public official while on duty
- drowning in public pools
- electrocution from fallen power lines
- injuries from faulty or improperly maintained public playground equipment
- injuries from falling tree branches in public places, like sidewalks and parks
- injuries from faulty or missing handrails or guardrails
Government Entity Must Be Negligent
Personal injury claims typically rely on negligence. The injury occurring on public property is not enough to file a claim against the government. The government must have been negligent in a way that caused the injury. For instance, if your child were injured from falling off a well-maintained, properly functioning swing at a public playground, a claim would likely be denied since no negligence was involved. However, if the swing’s chain snapped and resulted in the child’s injury, then it can be argued that the government was negligent in providing or maintain a safe playground.
Contributory Negligence in North Carolina Personal Injury Claim
North Carolina personal injury laws are trickier than most states because our state is one of only a few that practice contributory negligence. North Carolina contributory negligence laws are harshly cut and dry. Essentially, if the injured party is at all responsible for their injury, even to the smallest degree, they cannot collect any damages.
However, there are still ways to work around contributory negligence laws and still receive compensation. We explain this in another article on North Carolina Contributory Negligence Laws.
Filing a claim against the government follows a different procedure than one against a private person or company. To have a chance of receiving compensation from government entities, it is vital to follow state or federal TORT filing procedures. Time and accuracy are of the essence.
Limited Time to File a Notice of Claim
The first and vital step you must take after suffering an injury on public property is to file a notice of claim with the responsible government agency. This notice informs the agency that you intend to seek compensation for your injuries. This notice gives the agency the opportunity to respond to your claim.
Different government agencies have different filing deadlines. The filing period can be as little as thirty days. You must file within the applicable deadline from the date of your injury or the date of discovery of your injury. Date of discovery is relevant when symptoms of an illness or injury are delayed, or the cause of the injury wasn’t immediately known. As an example, you may have been exposed to chemicals on public property that led to a respiratory issue diagnosed at a later date.
If you miss the filing deadline, you may have forfeited your right to seek compensation, regardless of the severity of your injury or loss. Remember to act with diligence to prevent your claim from being time barred.
Send Notice to the Right Office Using the Right Form
Different government agencies also have different injury notice forms. You must use the correct form, fill it out correctly, and send it to the correct office before the approaching deadline. You may not have the opportunity to resubmit if you make a mistake and thus, lose your right to seek compensation. It is highly recommended you hire a personal injury attorney due to the strict nature of the procedures and limited timeframe.
Most notices of injury require the following information:
- Injured party’s name and address
- Date of injury
- Description of injury
- How the injury occurred
- How the government was negligent
- How the negligence caused your injury
- Financial losses to date, i.e., medical bills, lost wages
Burden of Proof
Like all personal injury claims, the burden of proof falls on the party filing the claim. You must provide evidence that supports your claim and prove the government’s duty, breach of duty, proximate cause, and damages suffered.
Evidence to Support Your Claim
Key evidence that can help sway a decision are property records, photographs and video, and witness statements.
How to Get Compensation for Injuries in Public Places
There are different limits to compensation for government agencies than private entities. As touched on above, there are strict procedural guidelines to follow as well. If you have experienced an injury or even the death of a loved one due to government negligence, you should immediately contact a personal injury lawyer. Most attorneys offer a free consultation to discuss your case. You have nothing to lose by scheduling a free consultation.
If you live in Asheville, North Carolina or the surrounding area, Fisher Stark, P.A. can help you get the compensation you deserve. Schedule your free consultation today – you don’t have time to wait!