If you are injured on public property, can you hold the government entity responsible? This is a question that many people ask when they are dealing with the aftermath of an accident.
The answer is not always straightforward, as there are a number of factors that need to be considered.
In this blog post, we will discuss how a premises liability case works when someone is injured on public property. We will also look at some of the defenses that may be available to the government entity involved.
Sustaining an Injury on Public Property
The Duty of Care
When a person is injured on public property, the first thing that needs to be determined is whether the jurisdiction where the injury happens allows lawsuits against government entities. Many states have statutes that outline whether a government entity had any duty to the injured party. This can depend on the circumstances of the accident and whether the government entity knew or should have known about the dangerous condition. If there was no duty owed, then there can be no liability.
In California, a government entity owes a duty to members of the public to ensure that none of its property/adjacent property creates a substantial risk of injury to members of the public when the property is used with reasonable care in a reasonably foreseeable manner. Whether the property is in a dangerous condition is determined without regard to whether the person who was injured exercised or failed to exercise reasonable care in their use of the property.
However, if it can be shown that the government entity did owe a duty of care to the injured party, then the next step is to look at whether that duty was breached. This will usually involve looking at whether the government entity took reasonable steps to mitigate any risks posed by the dangerous condition. If it can be shown that reasonable steps were not taken, then liability may be imposed.
The final step is to look at whether the breach of duty actually caused the injured party’s injuries. This is known as causation. If it can be shown that the government entity’s actions (or inaction) did cause the accident and resulting injuries, then the injured party may be able to recover damages.
A government entity may typically be held liable for an injury that occurs on public property if:
- The governing body or an employee representing it acted negligently in some way, and
- This negligence resulted in your injury-sustaining accident.
Generally, to prove that a public entity was negligent and that the negligence caused your injuries, you must be able to show that it was aware or should have reasonably been aware of the hazardous condition and neglected to take logical steps to alleviate the problem.
Just as the duties owed by government entities are written in statutes, oftentimes, defenses available to government entities are also contained in statutes. These are also known as immunities. Government entities can be immune from certain types of lawsuits, including some premises liability claims. There is a wide array of immunities that government entities often assert to shield themselves from liability. For example, one available to government entities in California is referred to as natural condition immunity, which prevents liability where someone is injured on unimproved public property. Another common immunity asserted by California government entities is design immunity – where the entity asserts that it is immune to even a dangerous design of the property. To prevail on a claim of design immunity, a public entity generally must establish three elements: (1) a causal relationship between the plan or design and the accident; (2) discretionary approval of the plan or design prior to construction; and (3) substantial evidence supporting the reasonableness of the plan or design.
However, there can be exceptions to immunities, which will depend on each case's specific facts. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to advise you on whether a given immunity is a potential defense in your case.
Another concept that may be available to government entities to reduce your damages is comparative negligence. This concept can be used when the injured party was also negligent, and their negligence contributed to the accident.
For example, if an individual slips and falls on a wet floor in a public building, but they were not paying attention because they were looking at their cell phone at the time, then the government entity may argue that the individual’s comparative negligence caused or contributed to the accident.
If you have been injured in an accident on public property, it is important to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who can advise you of your rights and help you recover the compensation you deserve.
Nearly all states as well as the federal government have implemented rigid guidelines that you must follow if you plan to file a lawsuit against a governing body. These deadlines are outlined below.
The “Notice” Requirement
Before proceeding with a premises liability lawsuit against the federal government, the state government, or a municipality, you are often required to submit a formal notice of injury with the appropriate governing body.
The federal government’s requirements may differ from the requirements set forth by each state, but the notice usually needs to include the following information:
- Your name,
- Your address,
- The date you were injured,
- A detailed description of how you got hurt,
- A statement providing that the governing body acted negligently,
- Your assertation of how the governing body’s negligence led to your injury,
- A description of the harm you sustained, and
- A description of the medical expenses and other monetary losses you’ve incurred.
The length of time you have to file the notice will vary depending on which governing body you’d like to sue, but the deadline for sending this information may be as little as 30 days.
Keep in mind that you may only submit a premises liability claim to court if you’ve filed the proper notice of the claim with the appropriate government entity. Additionally, the government must have been provided with enough time to either officially deny the claim or not take action on it.
The Notice Must Be Sent to the Proper Governing Body
Your claim will not only rely on the information you provide, but it is also crucial that you send the notice to the appropriate party. If your notice is sent to the wrong place, your claim may be thrown out, and you will be ineligible for compensation. Similarly, you must ensure that your claim is brought against the correct governing body to begin with.
Remember, the time limits on these types of claims can be very short. If you send a notice to the wrong governing body and the time limit expires on the notice for that particular government entity, you will be unable to provide the notice to the correct division of government within the deadline.
It is in your best interest to reach out to the administrative offices of the relevant government agency or entity to ensure that you fulfill the notice requirements after sustaining an injury on public property, or hire an attorney to ensure this important step is properly completed. Call as many offices as you need to until you find the answers you seek regarding where and when to send the notice.
Additionally, our team here at Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP is highly skilled in these sorts of claims and can help answer any questions you have about your case or the legal process in general.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to premises liability cases involving injuries sustained on public property, there are a number of factors that need to be considered. The government entity involved may have immunity from lawsuits, or the injured party may be found to be partially at fault for the accident.
An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to advise you on your best course of action. If you have been injured in an accident, contact the knowledgeable and experienced personal injury attorneys at Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP today. We will review your case and help you get the compensation you deserve.
Call our Los Angeles attorneys at (866) 634-4525 or contact us online to get in touch with someone from our team about the details of your case right away. We will fight to recover your full and fair compensation.