A woman from Savannah, Georgia, is set to receive
$9.5 million from the city, after she was impaled by a tree limb on public property.
Last week, the Savannah City Council voted to approve the settlement,
which was agreed upon after the city appealed a jury verdict awarding
the woman $12 million. The settlement marks a rare instance in which a
plaintiff has successfully brought a personal injury claim against a government entity.
On July 2, 2010, the plaintiff was riding in the passenger seat of a truck
when a live oak tree limb fell and impaled her. She lost her right leg
and sustained various other physical injuries, along with a
brain injury. The driver of the truck was awarded $20,000, and his son will receive
$10,000. They both suffered lesser injuries. The plaintiff’s attorney
argued that the city was negligent in not properly caring for the tree,
while the city claimed that the falling limb was an “Act of God”
and that there was nothing they could have done to prevent it from happening.
The Challenges of Suing the Government
Government entities are generally entitled to immunity from lawsuits and
liability. This is a public policy doctrine designed to protect taxpayer
money and to allow citizen disputes with the government to be settled
through regulatory action and democratic participation. However, most
government bodies will waive that immunity if the plaintiff follows a
very specific set of rules and procedures in bringing a lawsuit.
Most federal, state, county, and city governments have passed Tort Claims
Acts, which conditionally waive the government’s immunity to legal
liability for accidents or injuries. These laws generally require a potential
plaintiff to file a “notice of claim” within about 60 days
of their injury. The notice is filed with the government body or agency
that the plaintiff believes is responsible for the injuries. The notice
of claim is an important prerequisite for anyone who is considering bring
a personal injury lawsuit against the government.
If the claim is accepted, the government will pay the claimant a reasonable
amount as compensation for the injury. If the government denies the claim,
which it usually does, the claimant is then free to file a lawsuit and
try to hold the government liable. If you do not follow the specific procedures
laid out by the law, you will lose the right to receive any compensation
from the government. The Tort Claims Acts vary considerably from state
to state and city to city, so it is imperative that anyone who is thinking
about suing a government body secures quality legal representation as
soon as possible after sustaining the injury.
Pursuing a Claim Against the Government
If you or a loved one has been injured on public property or by a government
actor, and you believe the government to be at fault, you should contact
a personal injury attorney immediately. An attorney can review the facts
of your case and determine whether you have a viable claim. If so, they
can help you seek the compensation you deserve.