Articles Posted in Government Liability

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Police officers, like most government employees, are entitled to immunity from certain personal injury lawsuits under the doctrine of government immunity. This may even be the case when a police officer’s actions result in a serious injury or death. Government immunity does not apply in all situations, but in most cases, it will apply by default unless the injured party is able to show that the government employee’s conduct was reckless, intentional, or otherwise not qualified for immunity. A recent case illustrates how a court may apply government immunity to a police officer’s actions, defeating a personal injury plaintiff’s case.

Police CarAgrabrite v. Neer:  The Facts

Agrabrite was involved in a car accident when she was struck head-on by another motorist who was fleeing from the police at the time of the accident. The other motorist died in the collision, and Agrabrite was seriously injured. Agrabrite filed a personal injury lawsuit against several of the police officers involved in the chase, claiming that they were responsible for her injuries.

Before the case was submitted to a jury, the police officers sought summary judgment. They claimed that, as government employees, they were entitled to immunity from the lawsuit. In response, Agrabrite argued that the “wanton and reckless” conduct exhibited by the officers prevented immunity from attaching to the officers’ conduct.

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Almost every type of lawsuit has a time limit within which the case must be filed to be considered timely. These time limits, more commonly referred to as statutes of limitations, provide certainty to those who are involved in an accident and believe that they may face liability. However, statutes of limitations are strictly enforced and can often result in meritorious cases being dismissed for no other reason than the plaintiff filing the lawsuit too late.

RollerbladersOne of the issues that arises with statutes of limitations is determining which one applies. In most states, including Florida, there are different statutes of limitations for different types of lawsuits. For example, in Florida, the statute of limitations for general negligence cases is four years. However, for medical malpractice cases, the statute of limitations is just two years. In cases alleging the negligence of a government employee or entity, the statute of limitations is three years. Furthermore, when a case is filed against a government entity, additional procedures must be followed, or the case will not be considered timely and may be rejected.

The plaintiff in a recent premises liability case learned these lessons the hard way when an appellate court dismissed her case for being filed past the applicable statute of limitations.

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Earlier this month, the Rhode Island Supreme Court issued an opinion of interest to anyone considering filing a premises liability case against a landowner. In the case, Roy v. State, the court discussed how a state’s recreational use statute may act to prevent an injured party from seeking compensation for their injuries if the injuries occurred on the land of another party that had been opened up for free use by the general public.

Lake SceneThe Facts of the Case

Roy was paralyzed after he dove into a pond in a state-owned park. The park had “no swimming” signs posted around the pond, but the swimming prohibition was not strictly enforced. In fact, it seems that there would even be lifeguards on duty some days to ensure that those who did decide to swim were doing so safely. In addition to the “no swimming” signs, there were also “no diving” signs, and from the evidence at trial, this prohibition was enforced.

On the day in question, Roy dove into the pond after quickly inspecting the water level from above. He explained that it looked deep enough to dive into and also that he didn’t enter the water at a perpendicular angle, but instead at a more gradual angle through what he called a shallow dive. In any event, Roy struck his head on the bottom of the lake and broke his neck. He suffered permanent paralysis as a result. He then filed a premises liability lawsuit against the state, as the owner and operator of the park, alleging that the state was negligent in the maintenance of the park.

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Earlier this month, a Mississippi appellate court issued an interesting opinion discussing the limits on government immunity. In the case, Mississippi Transportation Commission v. Adams, the plaintiff was the estate of a man who was killed when he inadvertently rode his motorcycle into a construction zone and was involved in an accident. The court ultimately denied the government’s assertion of immunity, holding that the specific negligent act at issue was ministerial rather than discretionary.

Road LineThe Facts of the Case

Adams was riding his motorcycle on Interstate 10 when he accidentally entered a construction zone. As he tried to exit the construction zone safely, he struck an area where the pavement was not level, lost control, and was thrown from the motorcycle. After he fell off the bike, he was struck by at least two other passing vehicles. He died as a result of the injuries he sustained.

His estate filed a negligence lawsuit against the Transportation Commission, a government agency, claiming that the roadway was unnecessarily dangerous because the construction zone was not properly marked. One of the claims alleged that the white lines leading into the construction zone had not been covered up. The agency asserted its government immunity as a defense to the lawsuit.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Maine dismissed a premises liability case against a city government because the plaintiff failed to notify the government being sued within 180 days of his injury. In the case, Deschenes v. City of Sanford, the court determined that the plaintiff’s verbal notification that he was going to file the lawsuit was not sufficient to meet the requirements of the state’s Tort Claims Act.

stairs-1215277The Plaintiff Fell Outside City Hall

The plaintiff was visiting city hall to obtain a copy of his daughter’s birth certificate when he tripped on some raised tread and fell down the stairs. After falling down the stairs, he slid into a set of glass doors and was injured as a result. City employees at the scene provided the man with some basic medical care until the ambulance arrived and could take him to the hospital. Upon arrival, it was discovered that he had not suffered serious or life-threatening injuries, although he did have a few “abrasions.”

The plaintiff did nothing for the first 177 days following the accident. However, on the 178th day, he again went to city hall, this time to inform the government that he would be filing a lawsuit against them for failing to maintain safe premises. However, when he arrived, all the doors were closed. He was able to speak with one employee, and he informed that employee that he would be filing a personal injury lawsuit. A few weeks later, the city received formal notice that the plaintiff had filed a lawsuit.

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