Municipal Liability Cases in New York State

Despite the old saying “You can’t fight city hall,” it is possible to recover damages in New York for injuries caused by the negligence of a government official or employee. In order to file suit against the state, a political subdivision (cities, towns, etc.), or a government official, an injured person must give a specific type of notice within ninety days of the injury. Failure to provide this notice may bar the claim altogether. Certain types of injuries or claims might be subject to different rules. Anyone who has been injured because of government negligence should understand the special requirements for municipal and state liability.

The legal doctrine of sovereign immunity prevents a government from being sued without its consent. This derives from an English common-law doctrine that held that the King could not be sued in his own courts. Every government in the U.S., from the federal to village levels, has consented to suit for various types of claims. Allowing suits for breach of contract, for example, allows private companies to feel comfortable doing business with governments. Laws like the Federal Tort Claims Act allows individuals to file suit for personal injuries caused by a government or government official.

The New York Court of Claims Act gives consent to certain types of lawsuits, and establishes the Court of Claims to handle those suits. Section 8 of the CCA waives the state’s immunity from liability, and “assumes liability…in accordance with the same rules of law as applied…against individuals or corporations.” Section 10(3) states that anyone claiming personal injuries must file their claim, or a notice of intent to file a claim, within a certain amount of time.

The notice of claim must provide a description of the legal claim. It must also describe the circumstances of the incident that caused the claimant’s injury, such as the time and the location. The government gets a chance to evaluate the claim and do their own investigation. This may include a deposition of the claimant, which involves answering questions on the record and under oath, similar to giving testimony in court. Once this process is complete, the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit is shorter than it would be for a suit against a private party.

Even if the state has waived sovereign immunity for an injury claim, it might still be immune from suit in specific circumstances due to qualified immunity. For example, the New York Court of Appeals held in a 1986 case that the state has qualified immunity for negligence claims “arising out of a highway planning decision.” The state may only be held liable, the court ruled, “its study of a traffic condition is plainly inadequate or there is no reasonable basis for its traffic plan.”

If you have suffered injuries because of the negligence of a city or city official, you may be entitled to damages. The experienced New York injury attorneys at the Law Office of Mark A. Siesel are available to answer your questions. Please contact us at 914-428-7386 or online today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and options.