Suing the Government

A government entity includes everything from the Governor’s office to the police department to the local library.  If it gets paid for by tax dollars, chances are it is a government entity.  This means that any lawsuit one might bring against such an entity would be a lawsuit against the government.   When suing the government there are special procedural rules and deadlines you need to be aware of.  In this post our attorneys have laid out those special rules.

The most important thing to know about suing a government entity is that you need to file a Notice of Claim within 90 days from the date of the incident.  This is an extremely short time frame, so if you think you might have a claim against a government entity, make sure you speak to a lawyer right away!  A Notice of Claim gives the government entity a heads up that you plan to sue them.  This document includes:

  • Your name and address;
  • The name and address of your attorney, if you have one;
  • A description of the date, time, place and manner in which your claim arose;
  • The nature of your claim; and
  • The damages or harm you for which you are suing.

The Notice of Claim must be signed and verified, which means you have to include a separate sheet of paper that says you swear that everything in the document is true to the best of your knowledge.  The Notice then gets served upon the appropriate person, as defined in the law, to receive service of the claim for the particular government entity you are trying to sue.  So if you are trying to sue a town, often you would serve the town attorney.  If you are suing a school district, you would likely have to serve the President of the Board of Education.  Who you serve is a very important question and you should always verify who the proper person is by checking with a lawyer.

After filing the Notice of Claim you have to wait 30 days before you can file a summons and complaint to start a law suit.  But remember, in most cases you only have a year and 90 days from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit against a government entity; sometimes you only have one year.  If you do not file the summons and complaint within that time frame, you are forever barred from bringing a lawsuit.

Once the Notice of Claim is filed the government entity has the right to do what’s called a 50-h hearing, even if you haven’t started a lawsuit.  A 50-h hearing is like a deposition.  It gives the entity an opportunity to ask you questions, under oath, to determine if your lawsuit has any merit.  Often 50-h hearings occur in a conference room with a stenographer and you can have your attorney present during the hearing.  While the 50-h hearing is more casual than a hearing in a courthouse, it is still testimony under oath and anything you say can be used against you later in the case.

Filing your Notice of Claim too late, failing to include all necessary information, or serving it on the wrong person could all prevent you from bringing a lawsuit, even when you have a good claim.  Working with a lawyer can help you navigate these specific rules and details to make sure you preserve all of your rights.  If you think you might have  a claim against a government entity, call one of our attorneys today.