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Yes, You Can Sue a City for Negligence – Here’s How

Yes, You Can Sue a City for Negligence – Here’s How

Suing an individual or business is something we hear of all the time in the United States. Less common is the suing of a city, state, or other municipality. Can a person even do that?

The short answer is yes — cities can be sued in personal injury lawsuits and other types of civil suits. However, the process is different from (and significantly more complex than) suing a person, company, or other private organization.

In this blog article, we’ll outline some situations where suing a city might be possible and explore how these claims work. We’ll also look at some specifics of how the process plays out in North Carolina.

Reasons You Might be Able to Sue a City or Municipality

As with all types of civil lawsuits, a plaintiff might have grounds to sue a city when a city government or city employee commits a wrongful act (tort) that harms the plaintiff and causes losses. Examples of situations that could give rise to a lawsuit against a city include:

  • Being hit by a government vehicle (police car, public works vehicle, parks and rec truck, city bus, construction vehicle, public school bus, etc.)
  • Slipping and falling due to hazardous conditions in a government building, such as City Hall or the Secretary of State’s office
  • Being attacked or otherwise harmed because government security was inadequate
  • Medical malpractice committed by public health care workers, doctors partnering with Medicare/Medicaid, or a government department (Veterans’ Affairs, for example)

In any type of litigation against a government, multiple factors will determine your ability to make a solid case and recover financial compensation. However, regardless of where you live, one thing is almost certain: it will be harder to sue the city than it would be to sue an individual or private organization, because governments have special legal protections and additional resources that aren’t available to private parties.

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Suing a City is Rarely Simple, So Working with a Lawyer is Essential

Even if there’s no doubt that you experienced injury or property damage because of the negligent actions of a government employee or agency, bringing a successful lawsuit against a city will be a challenge. The difficulty of suing a city doesn’t mean you can’t succeed, but it does mean you’ll need to work with an experienced attorney who understands the law and is prepared to fight aggressively on your behalf.

How to Sue a City for Negligence

First, you’ll generally file a claim with the city government, at which point you’ll be directed to either the city attorney’s office or the risk management division.

Once the city receives your claim, it has three options:

  • Accept the claim and pay your damages
  • Negotiate with you to try and settle your case for less than the full amount of damages you’ve specified
  • Deny the claim outright

There’s very little chance the city will simply accept your claim and pay you the full amount of damages. Most often, the city will try to deny the claim or negotiate the amount down. If you can’t resolve the claim with the city, you can file a lawsuit against the city for negligence. As with any lawsuit, you’ll need to prove the city was negligent and that the negligence directly caused or contributed to your injuries and damages.

You’ll also need to consider whether the at-fault party was a government organization as a whole or an individual employee, as the difference can affect certain aspects of your case. (We’ll talk about this more later in the article.)

If you’re familiar with punitive damages, be aware that most states won’t allow you to recover these types of damages from a city government. North Carolina does not allow for punitive damages in lawsuits against a city or municipality. (If you don’t know about punitive damages and want to learn more, read this article from our blog.)

Make sure to check the statute of limitations for personal injury and negligence claims in your state. In North Carolina, claims must be filed within three years for a personal injury case and within two years for wrongful death.

Sovereign Immunity

One factor that can create challenges when bringing a lawsuit against a municipality is a legal concept called sovereign immunity. Under sovereign immunity, governments are immune from liability and can only be sued if they waive this immunity.

At first, sovereign immunity sounds like it makes suing a government impossible. Why would the government agree to let you sue it when they could just say “no”? In the past, this concern was real — sovereign immunity made it extremely difficult to sue governments.

However, many states have scaled back sovereign immunity in recent years due to political pressure from the public. Sovereign immunity no longer applies to many cities and municipalities. And even in states like North Carolina, where the state government still enjoys sovereign immunity, the government has waived this immunity and allowed negligence lawsuits against itself in certain circumstances. (We’ll discuss this more in the next section.)

What about city and local governments? Again, this depends on where you live. In North Carolina, local governments have immunity when the act in question happened while the government (or its employee) was performing governmental functions. However, if the government was engaged in proprietary activity (which means activity that a government agency wouldn’t traditionally perform), the government doesn’t have immunity.

Determining whether a government was engaged in governmental activity or proprietary activity can be extremely tricky, and court decisions on this topic haven’t always been consistent.

In general, sovereign immunity is a complex issue that varies widely from state to state and case to case, so you’ll need to consult an experienced attorney and get personalized advice about how sovereign immunity may affect your case.

North Carolina Tort Claims Act

The North Carolina Tort Claims Act (NCTCA) is the specific section of our state laws where the state waives its sovereign immunity against certain types of negligence claims. The NCTCA applies in any case where a state officer, employee, or agent engages in negligent behavior and causes harm while acting as a government employee. In these cases, the act makes it so you can sue the state just like any person or company.

All claims made under the NCTCA have to be filed with our state’s Industrial Commission, which is the court that typically hears workers’ compensation cases. The NCTCA governs local as well as state cases, and most cities include information on how to file these claims in their offices and on their websites.

Note that the NCTCA only allows you to sue the state government for the actions of an employee if that employee was acting in the scope of their duties. So, if a driver working for the city crashed into you while they were on the clock and driving a city vehicle, you can potentially sue the city for damages under the NCTCA. However, if the same driver hit you in the evening while they were off duty, the state is not liable.

Also, the NCTCA doesn’t apply if an individual government employee hurt you because of an intentional act. If a government employee hurt you on purpose, the city isn’t liable, although you may be able to sue the employee as a private citizen by filing an intentional tort claim.

The NCTCA also places a $1 million cap on non-economic damages like pain and suffering. There is no cap for economic damages, so you can potentially recover compensation that reflects all your lost wages, medical bills, property damage, and other out-of-pocket costs, no matter how large the amount is.

Between the complicated process of filing a claim, the tricky nature of the law in this area, and the large amount of evidence you’ll need to win in court, it’s essential to work with an experienced injury lawyer if you want to sue a city or other municipality. Without help from an attorney, your chances of bringing a successful lawsuit against a city or municipal government are very low.

RELATED: How an Attorney Can Help Preserve Evidence in Your Injury Case

Myers Law Firm: Fighting for Injured Victims of Negligence in and Around Charlotte, North Carolina

If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries in Mecklenburg County because of someone else’s negligent behavior, please contact Myers Law Firm right away. We’ll listen to your story and explain your legal options at no cost to you.

To schedule your free initial consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney from our team, please complete our quick and easy online contact form or call us at 888-376-2889.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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Wrongful Death Claim

If your loved one passed away because of someone else’s recklessness, you and your family deserve justice. A wrongful death claim is one way to recover the costs of their medical care and funeral, as well as lost income, pain and suffering, companionship and relationship, and more. The financial compensation can never replace the relationship you had with your loved one, but having financial security means you and your family will have the resources you need after they’re gone.

If you believe your family member passed due to someone else’s negligence, you should speak with an experienced Charlotte wrongful death lawyer who can help you understand your options. Immediate family members can usually file a wrongful death claim, but the statute of limitations in North Carolina for doing so is two years from the date of their passing.

The Evidence You Need to File a Wrongful Death Claim

Filing a wrongful death claim can be complicated, and insurance companies use the complications in these cases to pay victims’ families as little as possible. There are four main things families need to prove in a wrongful death case.

RELATED: How Wrongful Death Lawsuits Work in North Carolina

1. Proving Duty of Care

First, you must establish that the person who took your loved one’s life owed them a “duty of care.” This means they were in a situation where they needed to be accountable for others’ wellbeing.

For example, whenever you get behind the wheel, you owe other drivers and pedestrians a duty of care and are agreeing to keep others safe on the road. So, if a drunk driver was responsible for your loved one’s death, they had a duty of care to other drivers when they chose to get behind the wheel — which is provable by simply documenting that they were driving during the accident.

2. Proving the Breach of Duty of Care

The next piece of evidence you will need is to prove that the other driver “breached the duty of care” by acting in a way that knowingly put others’ lives at risk. If they were speeding, driving under the influence, driving distracted, or simply not paying attention, these could all be considered breaching the duty of care.

In our example, deciding to drive drunk breaches the duty of care. Cellphone records, DUI reports, and eyewitness accounts are all helpful evidence to support your case. An experienced Charlotte wrongful death lawyer can help collect and present this evidence as they build your case.

3. Proving Causation

In a successful wrongful death case, you must prove that the other driver’s thoughtless actions directly caused the wrongful death. This may seem like a straightforward step in the process, but the negligent driver’s insurance company might try to claim that faulty airbags, not wearing a seatbelt, or some other mechanical issue was “really” responsible for your loved one’s death in an attempt to evade justice and protect themselves.

Every wrongful death case is different, so no matter how clear your situation seems, you should speak with a lawyer who can prove that the defendant’s actions caused your loved one’s death.

4. Proving Damages

One of the most challenging aspects of a successful wrongful death case is proving how you and your family are suffering after the loss of your loved one. At Myers Law Firm, we understand that personal relationships are priceless and putting a dollar amount on a family member’s love might feel strange. However, we’re committed to helping victims understand what they need to get justice — including calculating financial and emotional losses, such as:

  • The cost of all medical care
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Lost wages over a lifetime
  • Pain and suffering your loved one experienced before they passed
  • Lost protection, services, and care of the person who passed away
  • Companionship and relationship with the deceased person

Rightful compensation is unique to each case. If you’re wondering about your options, please contact a skilled Charlotte wrongful death lawyer today.

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Call Myers Law Firm to File a Wrongful Death Claim

At Myers Law Firm, we know that moving forward following a family tragedy is incredibly difficult. That’s why we’re dedicated to giving families the help and resources they need to get justice and closure after the unthinkable happens.

If someone else’s negligence resulted in your loved one’s death, please contact Myers Law Firm today to schedule your free consultation. During our appointment, we’ll get to know you and review the details of what happened in order to offer sound legal advice regarding your claim.

To get started, please call 888-376-2889 or complete this brief online form today.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

Contact Myers Law Firm

We are committed to continuing to serve our clients’ legal needs

Single Divider

We are able to meet with clients and hold consultations with prospective clients via telephone or video conference. If you need to contact us, please do not hesitate; we are happy to speak with you about your situation, your needs, and how we can help.

Schedule Your Consultation Now!

Type of Case (Select One)(Required)

Wrongful Death

In life, an injured victim of someone else’s negligence might pursue a personal injury lawsuit to receive compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and other losses. However, if that victim dies from their injuries, they still deserve justice, which is why wrongful death actions exist. 

North Carolina law defines a wrongful death action as a civil case in which the victim’s death was caused by negligence, wrongful acts, or fault of another. When someone passes away, the decedent’s personal representative (usually a close family member) can file for monetary compensation in place of the personal injury lawsuit that the decedent would have filed. 

While financial compensation can’t right the wrong of someone’s death, it can provide the victim’s family and loved ones with an important sense of emotional closure and some financial security that addresses the loss of what their loved one would have been able to provide.

How Wrongful Death Lawsuits Work 

While someone’s death may be related to a corresponding criminal case, a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil case, which means the liability of the defendant is limited to financial compensation. The decedent’s personal representative is the only person who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Note that a civil case and criminal case aren’t mutually exclusive: civil cases can be filed in addition to a corresponding, ongoing criminal case, and the criminal judgement can assign different penalties, such as jail time, to the at-fault parties. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? Only an individual designated as the decedent’s personal representative can file a wrongful death claim as the plaintiff. If the decedent had a will, the personal representative is the executor named in the will. If the deceased person had no will, the person who qualifies as the administrator of the estate under the North Carolina intestate succession laws (which are the laws that govern who receives funds from the estate of a person who passes away without a will) is the personal representative. If the executor or administrator is unable or unwilling to serve as the personal representative, the court will appoint the public administrator to serve. 

Who Are the Beneficiaries of the Lawsuit? North Carolina law dictates that only certain persons may receive the proceeds of a wrongful death lawsuit. These people are the individuals who would receive proceeds pursuant to the intestate succession laws. The proceeds do not go into the deceased person’s estate but rather pass outside of the estate, which prevents creditors of the estate from obtaining any of the proceeds. If the deceased person had a will, the person who qualifies under intestate succession could be different than the beneficiaries of the will. 

RELATED: Distraction Seems To Be Causing The Rise In U.S. Traffic Deaths

What Are the Requirements? The plaintiff in a wrongful death case generally needs to prove two things to successfully pursue their claim. They need to: 

    1. Prove that the defendant is the “cause in fact” of the victim’s death. This requirement is generally easy for the plaintiff to prove, as it only concerns whether the defendant was directly responsible for the victim’s death.  
    2. Prove “proximate cause.” This second requirement is often more difficult to prove, as the plaintiff must demonstrate that the victim’s death was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s actions and that, therefore, the defendant should be held liable.

What Is the Statute of Limitations?

For most cases in North Carolina, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date of the victim’s death. Although certain factors could extend the statute of limitations for a wrongful death case, it’s best not to count on this; instead, you should contact an experienced North Carolina wrongful death attorney as soon as possible so they can listen to your story and help you decide what your best course of action is. 

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Damages Recoverable in a Wrongful Death Action 

The monetary compensation that victims receive after successfully pursuing a wrongful death claim is called “damages” in legal terminology. The idea behind these damages is that the defendant, if found to have acted negligently, must pay the plaintiff to address the losses and harm that resulted from their negligent actions (although in most cases, the defendant’s insurance company actually pays the damages). 

North Carolina law dictates the various types of damages that courts can award to plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit. In a wrongful death case, the possible damages include: 

  • Medical expenses resulting from injuries 
  • Funeral and burial expenses 
  • Compensation for pain and suffering 
  • Loss of income 
  • Loss of the decedent’s services, protection, care, companionship, and guidance

In cases where the plaintiff can prove malice, willful conduct, or wanton conduct on the part of the defendant, courts may also assign punitive damages in addition to the damages listed above. Punitive damages are designed to punish the conduct that led to the victim’s death and provide a warning against others who might consider acting in a similar negligent manner.

Myers Law Firm: Advocating for Wrongful Death Victims and Their Loved Ones in North Carolina

Because North Carolina law limits the time frame to file a wrongful death lawsuit, it’s important to act quickly and contact an experienced attorney if you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence. At Myers Law Firm, we can help you determine whether your case may be filed as a wrongful death action and what your next steps are. Attorneys Matt and Lee Myers of Myers Law Firm have extensive experience dealing with wrongful death lawsuits and are here to stand up for the victims of negligence in the Mecklenburg County area. 

We offer free initial consultations for all wrongful death cases, so call our offices at 888-376-2889 to discuss your case with one of our attorneys today at no risk to you. You can also fill out our brief contact form and we’ll get back to you right away. 

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

Contact Myers Law Firm

We are committed to continuing to serve our clients’ legal needs

Single Divider

We are able to meet with clients and hold consultations with prospective clients via telephone or video conference. If you need to contact us, please do not hesitate; we are happy to speak with you about your situation, your needs, and how we can help.

Schedule Your Consultation Now!

Type of Case (Select One)(Required)