The United States was founded on certain principles that have remained with the country through the state and federal constitutions, common law decisions, and legislatively enacted statutes. One of these principles is the idea that a government entity should not be held liable for any injuries caused as a function of the government carrying out its governmental business. This is called government immunity.
However, to say that a government is immune from all lawsuits that may arise while carrying out government business would grossly overstate the principle. In fact, governments can – and often are – held liable for their negligent and reckless actions, as long as there is evidence to overcome the immunity. Generally speaking, a negligent act will not rise to the level of culpability necessary to overcome immunity. Instead, there must be some “willful” or “wanton” conduct. While an intentional action certainly would satisfy this requirement, it is not required. Courts are willing to infer this level of culpability if a plaintiff can show, for example, that a government entity knew about a dangerous defect but failed to do anything about it. This is exactly what happened in a recent case involving a woman who tripped and fell on an uneven sidewalk.
Bernardoni v. City of Saginaw: The Facts
In this case, a woman tripped and fell on two uneven slabs of concrete that made up the sidewalk. She filed a lawsuit against the City of Saginaw, claiming that it should be held liable for her injuries because the city was negligent in failing to repair the sidewalk. In a pre-trial deposition, she claimed that she did not know how long the sidewalk had been in that condition, but she believed it to have been like that for at least 30 days. In addition to her testimony, she provided photographs taken 30 days after her fall, showing the uneven surface.
The court hearing the case determined that the woman did not present enough evidence to overcome the government’s immunity. Specifically, state law required that a plaintiff show that the dangerous condition was in existence for 30 days prior to the date of the accident. Here, the woman could not provide this evidence. Indeed, all she could provide were photos taken after the accident and her testimony that she was unsure how long the defect was in existence. As a result, the court dismissed the case against the city.
Have You Been Injured on Government Property?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured while on government property, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. Of course, there are additional issues that may arise when naming a government entity or employee as a defendant, as is discussed above. To learn more, contact one of the skilled Virginia premises liability lawyers at Charles B. Roberts & Associates. With their experience, you can rest assured that your case is in good hands. Call 703-491-7070 today to set up your free consultation.
See More Blog Posts:
Court Declines to Extend Government Liability in Fatal Motorcycle Accident Case, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, July 13, 2016.
Court Determines Parking Lot Placed Across Dangerous Street May Give Rise to Landowner Liability, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, August 4, 2016.