Articles Posted in Government Liability

Earlier this week, an appellate court in New Hampshire issued a written opinion in a personal injury lawsuit alleging that a town was liable for injuries sustained by the plaintiff while playing near a lake that was owned by the town. The case presents relevant issues for Washington, D.C. personal injury victims insofar as it discusses the state’s recreational use statute, which bears a close resemblance to other recreational use statutes in states like neighboring Maryland and Virginia.

Rope SwingThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s son was playing with a group of friends in a lake that was owned and maintained by the town where the lake was located. The plaintiff’s son was waiting near the water while his friend used a rope swing to fling himself into the water. The plaintiff’s son was attempting to slap the feet of his friend before he reached the water, when the two boys collided, causing the plaintiff’s son to sustain serious injuries.

The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the town, claiming that it was negligent in allowing the presence of the rope swing and in failing to place warning signs. The town responded by asserting recreational use immunity. Recreational use statutes apply to landowners who open up their property for the general enjoyment of others, and they confer immunity from some personal injury lawsuits that occur as a result of the use of the property.

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Property owners have a duty to maintain a safe location for those whom they invite onto their land. When a private landowner or business fails to safely maintain their property, and a visitor is injured as a result, the injured visitor may be able to pursue compensation for their injuries through a Washington, D.C. premises liability lawsuit.

RollerbladingGovernment entities also have a similar duty to maintain safe premises. However, recovering compensation for injuries that occur on government-owned land can be more difficult, since issues of immunity may prevent a case from proceeding as it would against a private party.

A recent case illustrates how an accident victim may be prevented from bringing a case against a government entity. While the case is a good example of a situation in which liability was found not to be appropriate, accident victims should not be discouraged and should individually consult with a dedicated personal injury attorney to discuss their case and any potential claims.

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Earlier this year, an appellate court in Alabama issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that required the court to discuss the state’s recreational-use statute and determine if the defendant, a government entity, was entitled to immunity. Ultimately, the court determined that the plaintiff failed to establish that an exception to the general grant of immunity applied, and therefore the government entity was determined to be immune from liability.

FireworksThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was attending a July 4th celebration at a park that was owned and operated by the defendant city. The plaintiff arrived at the park by car and parked in a designated parking space. At the border of the parking lot were large vertical poles used to designate the parking area. These poles had holes at the top so that cables could be run through, connecting the poles. While on the day of the plaintiff’s injury there were no cables running through the poles, there were diagonal crossbars present used as support beams.

As the plaintiff exited her vehicle, she negotiated her way around the poles without incident. The plaintiff attended the firework display. However, on the way back to her car, she tripped on one of the diagonal support bars connecting the poles. She filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city, arguing that the poles and the attached support beams constituted a dangerous hazard and that the city should have warned park-goers.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued a written opinion in which the court had to apply the recreational use statute to determine whether the defendant city could be held liable for injuries occurring at a recreational baseball game. Ultimately, the court held that the city was entitled to immunity and that the plaintiff’s argument that the city had prior notice of the field’s dangerous condition was not able to be considered on appeal because it was not argued below.

Old BaseballThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in the case were the parents of a boy who was playing a recreational game of baseball in a park owned and operated by the defendant city. During the game, the plaintiffs’ son slid into home plate, and his ankle and lower leg got lodged under the plate. When their son tried to stand up after the slide, he broke his leg in two places.

The plaintiffs filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city, arguing that it was negligent in maintaining the baseball diamond. In a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, the city argued that it was entitled to immunity from the lawsuit under the recreational use statute.

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Late last year, an appellate court in Ohio issued a written opinion affirming an intermediate appellate court’s decision that a city that allowed a stop sign to become overgrown with foliage was not entitled to governmental immunity. In the case, Bibler v. Stevenson, the court concluded that the city was not entitled to immunity because the stop sign was placed due to a state law requiring stop signs to be placed at intersections of “through highways.”

Stop SignThe Facts of the Case

Bibler was injured in a car accident when another motorist, Stevenson, allegedly ran a stop sign. Stevenson claimed that he did not see the stop sign, and the responding police officer agreed that the sign was overgrown with foliage and not visible to approaching motorists.

Bibler later filed a personal injury lawsuit against both Stevenson and the City of Findlay, the local government of the place where the accident had occurred. Bibler settled with Stevenson, and the case proceeded against the city only. In a pre-trial motion, the city argued that it was entitled to government immunity because under state law, governments are only liable for negligence involving “public roads,” which do not include traffic-control devices. Bibler agreed with that general statement but argued there was an exception when the traffic-control device was by the state’s “manual of uniform traffic control devices.”

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in North Dakota issued a written opinion affirming the dismissal of a plaintiff’s premises liability case against a city because the case was filed after the applicable statute of limitations. In the case of Frith v. City of Fargo, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that a longer statute of limitations should apply because the condition that caused her injury was created by a third party rather than the city named in the lawsuit.

Cracked PavementThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in July 2012 while rollerblading in a park owned and operated by the City of Fargo. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured when she tripped over a soft patch of pavement that had recently been placed to cover up a crack. The paving had been completed not by a city employee but by a third-party independent contractor.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the city only. She claimed that the city’s negligence in failing to deal with the hazard caused her injuries. The lawsuit was within three years of the accident, but the plaintiff failed to properly serve the city, so the initial case was dismissed. The plaintiff then refiled the lawsuit and properly served the defendant in October 2015.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Michigan issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought against a city, alleging that the condition of a road was unsafe. In the case of Kozak v. City of Lincoln Park, the appellate court determined that the lower court should not have granted the defendant city’s motion for summary judgment because the plaintiff presented a prima facie case of negligence, on which facts the government may not be entitled to immunity.

HighwayThe Facts of the Case

Kozak was injured as she tripped while crossing the street in the city of Lincoln Park. According to the court’s factual summary, there was a three-inch differential in the height of two concrete surfaces that met, creating a tripping hazard. Kozak argued that this was unreasonably dangerous, that the City should have known about it, and that the failure to correct the dangerous condition was negligent.

The government had the Director of Public Services testify on its behalf that the condition at issue was not really a safety hazard and that it was still safe for public travel. The trial court then granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that there was insufficient evidence presented to overcome the hurdle of government immunity.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that was filed by a man who was paralyzed after he dived off a diving platform in a state park. The court noted that it was sympathetic to the plaintiff, but that the law had to be applied in an unemotional way. In so doing, the court found that the state was immune from the lawsuit based on recreational immunity.

Roy v. State: The Facts

Roy was Wooded Lakeparalyzed when he dove off a diving platform into the murky waters below it. He filed a premises liability lawsuit against the state, as well as the owner and operator of the park, alleging that the state had not done enough to protect against the type of injury he sustained.

The evidence presented at trial showed that there were “no swimming” signs up around the park, but that people routinely disobeyed the signage. There was even testimony that there were bathhouses and lifeguards occasionally on duty who would only stop swimmers when they would dive head-first into the pond.

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Earlier this month, one state’s highest court issued an opinion interpreting the state’s recreational use statute, determining that a city employee named in his individual capacity is not entitled to governmental immunity as a “land owner” for the land he was in charge of maintaining. In the case, Johnson v. Gibson, the court determined that the plaintiff’s lawsuit should be permitted to move forward against the allegedly negligent employee and his supervisor.

city-87343_960_720The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured while jogging in a city-owned park when she stepped in a small hole that had been dug to repair a sprinkler. The hole was dug by one of the defendants named in the lawsuit, who was a city employee in charge of park maintenance. The lawsuit also named the employee’s supervisor.

At trial, the defendants asked the court to dismiss the case against them, based on the fact that they were entitled to government immunity as city employees. Generally speaking, governments and private land owners alike are immune from personal injury lawsuits that occur on their land, as long as the land is open for use to the public without a fee. However, in this case the court determined that the city employee was not a “land owner” who had opened his land up for use by the public.

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Normally, when a patient is injured due to negligent medical care provided by a doctor, surgeon, or nurse, the injured patient is able to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit against the allegedly negligent medical professional, seeking damages for what they have been through. However, under an old legal doctrine called the “Feres” doctrine, military personnel can be denied the ability to recover damages based on injuries they sustained while on active duty.

army-1309341The Feres Doctrine

The doctrine was first announced in the case of Feres v. United States, which was a United States Supreme Court case decided back in 1950. The case actually combined three individuals’ cases and decided them in one written opinion. The Court was able to do this because each case presented a similar legal issue:  whether the United States government could be held liable for injuries suffered by active military personnel while they were on active duty.

The Court ultimately determined that the government should not be held liable for any injuries that were caused, even if the injuries were caused by a government official’s own negligence. The rationale behind the opinion is that the government should be more worried about big-picture concerns in times of war rather than worried about avoiding potential liability for the actions of its officials. While the basis for the decision arguably makes sense in some spur-of-the-moment battlefield decisions, it has recently been applied to situations that seemingly stray from the heart of the doctrine’s rationale.

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