Most people are aware that if they slip and fall on a property, the owner of that property is often liable for their injuries and/or pain and suffering. But what happens when the building owner is the government? The fact of the matter is, it makes no difference who the owner of the property is — if the owner was negligent in the upkeep and maintenance of the building, they are generally liable for injuries. However, the ability of a person to sue and/or collect an award from the government is limited, based on two factors: the duration or period between the time the incident occurred and the time the person filed legal notice of it and the amount of money that is recoverable in the event of a legal claim.
Negligence Must Be Proven
Even taking these two conditions into account, the first thing that must be proven is that the government knew of — or should reasonably have known of — an unsafe condition and did not take action. To learn more about proving negligence in slip and fall cases, read our blog article Proving Fault in Slip and Fall Accidents.
Limitations on Notice and Elapsed Time
Whether the “government” in question is the federal government, a state government or a local body, there are strict rules about how you must notify this entity of the incident and/or any legal actions you intend to take as a result of it.
The first step is filing a formal notice of injury. The department you must file with and the exact requirements may differ, but generally the notice must include the following:
• The date of the incident
• The name and address of the injured party
• A summary describing the injury or injuries and how they occurred
• Full details of all injuries
• A statement that claims the government is liable
• Detail of how the government’s negligence caused the injury or injuries
• Details of all your medical expenses and any other financial costs resulting from the injury
Depending on the entity you wish to sue, the filing time limit for this notice from the time of the incident can be as short as 30 days. Definitely verify that you are filing a claim against the right office or department in the government in question.
Notice Must Be Sent
It’s very important that you send this notice to the right department or office, and that the one you send it to is the one named in your claim. If you send the notice to the wrong department or office, even if it’s located in the same building, your claim may be disallowed.
Just to give an example, let’s say you slip and fall on the sidewalk in front of a federal office building. Because the city owns the sidewalk, you make a claim against the city exclusively. But it’s possible that the federal government has a contract between itself and the city involving the use of the building, so in this case the federal government may be considered the rightful owner of this particular piece of the sidewalk. In such a case, the city would not be liable for your injuries. So, if you did not send notice to the federal government within the proper timeframe, your claim against it could be barred.
If you’re not sure who the proper authority to make a claim against is, call the administrative offices of the municipality in which the incident took place. Continue to call any and all parties necessary to verify who holds the liability in your particular case and send the appropriate notice only when you have verified confirmation. Due to the nature of these types of cases, it is highly recommended that you consult with an experienced premises liability attorney.
Limitations of Awards
Depending on which government you’re making a claim against, awards may be limited, sometimes to well under $100,000. Be prepared to accept this as a possible outcome.
Liability Must Be Proven
As soon as it’s possible, you should document your injuries and the immediate area where they occurred. If it’s possible to do so just after the time of the incident, that’s the best case scenario, but the more documentation you have — in the form of pictures of your injuries, clothing you were wearing, photos of the area where it happened — the better prepared you will be for a court case and/or arbitration.
Reporting the Situation
Remember, even if just a few minutes elapse, ice or snow, for example, can melt. In cases involving ice or snow especially, taking pictures as close to the time of the incident as possible is crucial. Pictures don’t lie. Ice or snow can be cleared away. Stairs or broken sidewalks can be repaired. Try to let as little time elapse as possible.
At the time of the incident, you should also find someone who is in charge of the area and report the incident to them, and make sure that a written report is filed. Try to get a copy of this report, if possible. If there were any eyewitnesses, be sure to get their names and contact information. If you don’t get a report filed immediately, it is very possible that your case will not succeed. Unfortunately, for those incidents that are not reported, governments are not likely to believe that they happened.
Contact The Brown Firm PLLC for Professional Legal Assistance
If you have been involved in a slip and fall accident on government property, contact The Brown Firm PLLC online or call our office directly. Our premises liability attorneys have extensive courtroom litigation experience and will be able to craft an effective legal strategy for your case. Our firm offers initial consultations so that you can understand your options – call our firm and set up your consultation today.