Understanding Municipality Premise Liability in Personal Injury Casesby Mike Bottaro (Bottaro Law Firm, LLC)
If you suffered a personal injury caused by a municipality, such as a city or town, different rules apply than if a private company caused your personal injury. Municipalities are responsible for providing safe and adequately maintained properties for the public. Before 1946, government entities were usually considered immune to lawsuits or liability for personal injury, wrongful death, or property damage caused by its employees performing their duties. This policy of “sovereign immunity” was created to ensure that government entities were not limited from fulfilling their roles by concerns about legal action. In 1946, Congress enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act allowing for lawsuits against federal employees acting within the scope of their employment for these activities. An experienced personal injury attorney can assist you in navigating through this statutory scheme.
Each individual state has specified the rules allowing an injured party to sue the state without sovereign immunity protection. Rhode Island first created an exception to the municipal immunity rule in 1896 for personal injuries related to road maintenance. In the 1970 case of Becker v. Beaudoin, the Rhode Island Supreme Court determined this waiver of sovereign immunity extended beyond the context of road maintenance. Following this decision, the State legislature passed the Rhode Island State Tort Claims Act, making “[t]he state of Rhode Island and any political subdivision thereof, including all cities and towns. . . liable in all actions of tort in the same manner as a private individual or corporation.”
The rules governing how a municipality may be sued alter factors such as the personal injury that may be alleged, liability standards, procedural limitations regulating how, when, and where the personal injury lawsuit is filed, and even limit the amount of money that may be recovered for a personal injury or property damage. An experienced personal injury attorney understands that many of the rules are listed in R.I. Gen. Laws, although others appear elsewhere. According to Rhode Island’s general laws, if for example, you suffered a Warwick personal injury, you’d have sixty days to provide notice to the Warwick City Council when a personal injury arises due to defect, lack of repair, or insufficient railing, or on a public highway, causeway or bridge preventable by reasonable care or diligence.
A municipality such as Warwick may be sued by a Warwick personal injury attorney as either a public or a private entity depending upon the function they perform. When a municipality engages in a governmental function, the limitations apply. When the municipality functions as a proprietor, it loses many of its protections and may be treated more like any other private entity. A municipality function is something ordinarily or easily performed by a private individual or corporation. For example, maintaining a government building, correctional institute, or public road would be considered a government function. Other functions, such as running a utility company or a housing complex, may be considered proprietary activities.
A skilled personal injury attorney can help you determine the rules and regulations affecting your premise liability personal injury claim against a municipality or private entity. Whether you were injured or had property damaged due to failure to poor maintenance, inadequate notice of dangerous conditions, negligence, or violations of safety codes, an experienced Warwick personal injury attorney can help guide you on your path to recovery.