Dealing with Sovereign Immunity After an Accident in Washington, D.C.

The law allows people injured in an accident to bring a civil negligence lawsuit against the responsible party. There are, however, some key exceptions that Washington, D.C. personal injury plaintiffs ought to understand when preparing to file a lawsuit. One of the most important is sovereign immunity, also known as governmental immunity.

The basic idea behind sovereign immunity is that states and governments are protected from negligence lawsuits arising out of their official duties. For D.C. plaintiffs, this means that there are some instances in which, when the government is responsible for their injuries, a plaintiff will not have legal recourse to recover compensation.

A recent Virginia appellate case illustrates the importance of sovereign immunity. According to the court’s written opinion, the case arose as a wrongful death lawsuit against the city for failing to adequately maintain fire hydrants. The deceased victim was killed in a fire when the firefighters, unable to get the needed water from the fire hydrant closest to the burning house, had to go to the next closest hydrant. This second fire hydrant was around 1,000 feet away, and by the time that the firefighters were able to get the necessary water, the victim had died.

Following this tragic accident, the victim’s estate brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the city. The city filed something called a “plea in bar,” which asserts one issue that, if true, bars the plaintiff’s recovery. In this plea in bar, the city contended that the claim was barred because of sovereign immunity. While sovereign immunity does generally protect the city from being sued in personal injury claims, there are some exceptions. Ultimately, the court was required to decide whether the city could be held liable in this instance for failing to maintain the operability of the fire hydrant in front of the victim’s house.

The court answered this question in the negative. The court explained that sovereign immunity is proper when the plaintiff is injured as a result of the government defendant carrying out an official governmental function. The court found that establishing and operating fire hydrants is a governmental function because it is done to assist firefighters in responding to fires in the city. As a result, the victim’s estate was unable to proceed in the case against the city because sovereign immunity barred the claim.

Sovereign immunity cases are often difficult and can be convoluted. Due to their heightened difficulty, plaintiffs are advised to seek counsel if they are considering a lawsuit against a government entity or agent. While it is possible to succeed in these claims, plaintiffs should consult an experienced attorney to understand the potential defenses that the defendant may have, as well as how to get around them.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney

The law office of Lebowitz & Mzhen, Personal Injury Lawyers, is here to help you with your personal injury case. Our dedicated attorneys have years of experience representing clients in a variety of cases, including wrongful death lawsuits, claims against the government, product liability lawsuits, slip and fall cases, motor vehicle accident claims, and more. If you or someone you love has recently been injured in any sort of accident, contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your options. Call now at 800-654-1949. We look forward to hearing from you and assisting you with your case.

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