Unique Challenges in Claims Involving Government-Owned Properties

Personal injury attorneys handle many accidents that can happen anywhere. What happens when these claims involve state or federal owned property or government employees?

This could involve:

  • A fall due to a broken sidewalk on public grounds
  • A collision with a state or federal owned vehicle
  • An accident at a park belonging to the state or the National Park Service
  • Or other accident meeting specific criteria

The laws governing personal injury claims against governments and their employees vary by state and agency, and they can be complex and frustrating.

Tort Claims Acts: State and Federal

The US government and many of the states, including South Carolina, have passed packages of laws called tort claims acts. These laws regulate when and how you can make a claim against the government or its employees for personal injuries.

Generally, the government does not permit lawsuits about decisions that government employees make as part of their job. These are called “discretionary acts.” The law may permit a claim over the negligence of government employees who were carrying out everyday “ministerial” tasks—for example, maintaining a building or driving a state car.

South Carolina Tort Claims Act

In South Carolina, if you’ve been hurt in an accident and are filing a claim against a government entity seeking compensation for resulting damages, your claim must be in compliance with the South Carolina Torts Claims Act (SCTCA). This is the only way you can seek compensation from a negligent state entity

Under South Carolina law, you may make claims against the state for a personal injury claim involving “an employee acting within the scope of his official duty.” However, your case must meet very specific circumstances in order to be eligible to file a lawsuit. In fact, there are forty named exceptions to filing a lawsuit against a government entity.

Many of these exceptions are designed to avoid claims against the state government for injuries on public property, on roadways, in schools, and in prisons. For example, you cannot make a claim against the state or an agency for personal injuries arising out of, among other things:

  • “A defect or a condition in, on, under, or overhanging a highway, road … or other public way caused by a third party unless [it] is not corrected … within a reasonable time after actual or constructive notice;”
  • “Maintenance, security, or supervision of any public property, intended or permitted to be used as a park, playground, or open area for recreational purposes unless the defect or condition causing a loss is not corrected … within a reasonable time after actual notice …”

See S.C. Code § 15-78-10 for the full list of 40 exceptions.

Generally, you have two years to file a lawsuit against the state of South Carolina. It is in your best interest to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to see if you qualify and, if you do, to start the intricate legal process.

Limits for South Carolina Tort Claims Against Government Entities

In addition to only being able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the government or a government employee under very specific circumstances, there are also limits in place for how much compensation you can recover. These are known as “damage caps,” and they limit the amount you’re able to recover for your injuries and resulting damages.

In South Carolina, at this time, the law states that a single person cannot recover more than $300,000 in damages. These caps are not adjusted for inflation and have remained the exact same since 1997.

South Carolina law also does not allow claims for punitive damages against the state. Punitive damages, also known as “exemplary damages,” are available in some personal injury cases against private citizens, corporations, and other organizations. They are designed, like fines, to punish the defendant’s actions and discourage others from taking those actions. These are not applicable in tort claims.

Federal Tort Claims Act

The federal government has a similar process for filing claims, but it is even stricter.

You may be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit against the federal government for accidents that meet specific criteria, such as car accidents caused by a U.S. Postal Service driver, military vehicle, or vehicle transporting federal law enforcement/agency employees.

In addition, you may qualify to file a lawsuit against the federal government for injuries sustained on federal property such as post offices or courthouses.

Again, there are many exceptions, so it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced lawyer to see if you qualify to seek compensation from the federal government.

Unlike South Carolina law, federal law requires you to submit a claim to the applicable federal agency before bringing a lawsuit. If the government rejects your claim or makes an inadequate settlement offer, you have only six months after they send their decision to file a lawsuit.

As with the state, you cannot seek punitive damages against the federal government. And again, there are exceptions to protect the government and its employees from suits. For example, an employee who was “exercising due care” or performing a “discretionary function or duty” is protected from claims. During your complimentary case evaluation, our team will listen to the details of your accident and explain your legal options.

Should You Hire a Lawyer For a Federal or State Government Injury Claim?

Building a claim against the state or federal government is much more complicated than dealing with a private party or corporation. There are different rules, regulations, and deadlines that must be met or your case will be dismissed. An experienced personal injury attorney can analyze your situation and determine if you have a case against the state or, alternatively, against a third party involved, such as a contractor.

Rest assured, our team will handle the deadlines, the confusing forms, and the pressure involved with your claim.

If you believe you may have a claim against a state or federal agency for an accident that happened in South Carolina, we’re here to help. Call Cavanaugh & Thickens, LLC today at (803) 888-2200 to schedule a complimentary case evaluation in our Columbia or Charleston offices.