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Personal Injury and Sovereign Immunity

You might find yourself facing an uphill battle against the government when trying to recover compensation due to the negligent act of a public employee. Many states have laws that limit the amount an injured person can recover and even whether an injured person could recover at all. According to New England Cable News, several people have tripped over the historic old bricks of that cover Boston City Hall Plaza, suffering injuries such as broken bones, concussions, and damage to the jaw, lips, and knees. When they tried to file claims against the government, their claims were rejected by the city due to a state law that grants the city sovereign immunity from ordinary negligence.

Keep in mind however that there are nuances to the broad doctrine of sovereign immunity. In Massachusetts, the state legislature carved out an exception for personal injury claims against public employers in the form of the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act. M.G.L. c. 258, §1 defines Public employer as, “commonwealth and any county, city, town, educational collaborative, or district, including the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, any duly constituted regional transit authority and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and any public health district or joint district or regional health district or regional health board….”

An injured person in Massachusetts can then sue the government pursuant to M.G.L. c. 258, § 2, for the, “…injury or loss of property or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any public employee while acting within the scope of his office or employment, in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances, except that public employers…shall not be liable for…any amount in excess of $100,000….” If you were hurt on a government property and received bills from medical providers that exceed $100,000, you might only be able to recover the $100,000. The exception to this cap on recovery is for very serious bodily injury claims against the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (“MBTA”). M.G.L. c. 258, §1 defines “serious bodily injury” as, “bodily injury which results in a permanent disfigurement, or loss or impairment of a bodily function, limb or organ, or death. So, if you suffered permanent disfigurement or loss of a bodily function, then your damages can go beyond the $100,000 cap.

Personal injury claims against the government can be procedurally different than those against private parties. Pursuant to M.G.L. ch. 258, §4, an injured person in Massachusetts has to first provide notice in the form of a presentment letter to the executive officer of the public employer within two years from the date of your injury. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has recognized in several cases, such as Murray v. Hudson, Shapiro v. Worcester, and Richardson v. Dailey, that a presentment letter is the prerequisite for recovery, and should contain enough sufficient facts for the public official to make out the legal basis of a claim.

It is extremely difficult to overcome the many legal hurdles of a personal injury claim against a public employer without the help of an experienced personal injury attorney. If you or someone you know were hurt due to the negligent act of a public employee, please contact a slip and fall attorney at Mitcheson & Lee for a free consultation.