Request a Free Consultation

Can You Sue the Government for Negligence?

Updated May 3, 2023 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

If a person has been injured in a car accident with a government vehicle, experienced medical malpractice at a government facility, or is injured at a government facility, we are often asked the question, “Can you sue the government?”

The short answer is possibly. Many lawsuits involving the government fall under personal injury law and auto accidents. Yes, it’s true that states, cities, counties, or towns can be held liable for cases that cause injury, but suing the government is unlike suing a person or private business. Let’s take a look at some of the complexities involved in how to sue the government for negligence.

What’s the Difference: Sue a Private Entity vs. Sue the Government for Negligence

Suing an individual or private entity can be complicated in its own accord. Working with an experienced car accident attorney or personal injury attorney is important to get the compensation you deserve.

Private party lawsuits have varying timelines depending on insurance and defendant response times and looking at the evidence. The statute of limitations in Indiana for non-government-related accidents is two years from the date of the accident. The process looks a bit different for suing a government and requires extra steps.

A big difference is punitive damage lawsuits. Punitive damage is intended to punish the opposing party that goes above negligence involving gross mistreatment and behavior. Indiana, along with most other states, has eliminated punitive damages against the government.

Special Rules for How to Sue a Government Agency

Lawsuits can be intimidating on their own, let alone pursuing one against the government.

To be able to sue the government for negligence, there are strict guidelines in place with few exceptions. Suing the government is hardly an easy task, so it’s essential to work with an experienced attorney to make sure all requirements are covered in the timely manner the government expects. The special rules that the government requires are as follows:

Shorter Time Limits

The statute of limitations is the time period after an accident in which you can file a lawsuit. Once the time limit has passed, you are no longer able to pursue legal action.

Indiana’s statute of limitations for suing a government entity must be filed within 180 days. If you would like to sue the state, there are some more complications. Under Indiana Code 34-13-3-6, to make a claim against the state of Indiana, a notice must be filed with the attorney general or state agency involved within 270 days. Speak with your personal injury attorney before pursuing a lawsuit so you can file your claim with the correct government entity in the appropriate time frame. Following the statutes of limitations is a crucial part of how to sue the state or government.

Notice of Claim Document

Before even pursuing a lawsuit against the government, you must provide a Notice of Claim to the government. Not doing so makes may result in the court’s dismissal of your lawsuit.

Notice of Claim rules may also differ between government entities. Work with your attorney to make sure your Notice of Claim follows the guidelines of the particular government entity within the jurisdiction you are suing.

Notice of Claim letters are actually not filed with the court. Instead, they are mailed to a government entity and/or every government employee involved in your potential case. In Indiana, to file a claim for a personal injury or property damage against the state, all Notice of Claim forms need to be sent to the Attorney General. Indiana actually has a Tort Claim Notice form to submit.

Government Immunity

In addition to shorter time limits and a Notice of Claim, the Indiana government, and all governments in the United States, have sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine which declares the government is immune from prosecution or civil suits.

This may seem like a deterring factor when deciding if you can you sue the government. Yet, sovereign immunity only covers so much. If you work with an experienced attorney to walk you through your case, you still may be able to sue a government if you case falls outside of Indiana’s sovereign immunity statutes.

Sovereign Immunity in Indiana

Indiana Code 34-13-3-3 states the immunity of governmental entities as well as immunity for a government employee. Some key Indiana sovereign immunity takeaways are listed below.

A main factor in how to sue a county for negligence is understanding that a governmental entity or employee cannot be held liable for a number of conditions if the employee or entity acted within the scope of their job duties. This includes:

  • An action taken in good faith without malice
  • An action taken by a government employee based on their personal judgement. This is also called discretionary function immunity.
  • The natural condition of an unimproved property if you are injured on a piece of governmental property
  • Injury of a person or property if the person pursuing the lawsuit is on probation or in a drug service program
  • Failure to make an inspection or making an inadequate inspection of a non-governmental property
  • If you are injured by a body of water and did not use a nearby structure properly, then the condition of certain water structures or recreation path is immune from premise liabilities
  • If a highway or toll road was built in the last 20 years, the government is immune from design (or lack thereof) or condition of the road
  • The operation of an off-road vehicle acting outside the scope of their employment
  • Unintentional misrepresentation
  • Theft of someone’s money if the money was in an employee’s custody. An exception to this rule is if the money was lost because of the employee’s own actions.

These are just a few of the immunities enacted by the Indiana Code. Speak with your attorney about your experience with a government entity. We can provide a free case evaluation to determine the next steps in pursuing a lawsuit against the government.

Reasons for Suing the Government

You may be able to sue a city, county, or municipality for a number of reasons. You must have grounds to sue a city or government. The experienced attorneys at Wilson Kehoe Winingham have worked on a multitude of government negligence cases. With our experience, we may be able to help you in a lawsuit against the government if:

  • You are hit by a government vehicle.
  • You are in a collision or auto accident with a government vehicle. Government vehicles may include police cars, school buses, construction vehicles, city buses, and more.
  • Suffering at the care of public health care workers during treatment with Medicare or Medicaid.
  • Suffering medical malpractice by a government healthcare agency or department (i.e. Veterans Affairs).
  • There are premise liabilities such as hazardous conditions on government properties.
  • You are harmed and suffer personal injury due to inadequacies in government security.

To file a lawsuit against an employee of the Indiana government due to medical malpractice or an auto accident, it must be proven that the employee acted outside the scope of their employment and that their actions were criminal, willful, malicious, and/or calculated.

How Can I Sue the Government for Negligence Despite Sovereign Immunity?

Suing for negligence, malpractice, or other liabilities depends on how solid your case is. Working with an experienced attorney to build your case through hard evidence can strengthen your argument and increase your chances for pursuing a lawsuit. Regardless of your evidence and location, suing a city or government entity will be more difficult than it would be to sue a private entity (company, individual, etc.) because of sovereign immunity.

How to File a Claim Against Indiana: Steps to Take

When questioning whether you are able to sue a government entity, it’s important to note the steps to take based on a special set of rules. The federal government, as well as most state and local governments, have enacted laws containing specific rules for filing a personal injury claim against them. In order to sue a city, it’s important to follow the exact process.

File a Notice of Tort Claim for Government Negligence

As discussed previously, a Notice of Claims needs to be submitted to the attorney general in Indiana before pursuing a lawsuit. To do so, you must fill out a tort claim notice, which gives the government the ability to investigate the claim before moving forward with a suit.

If the tort claim notice is not filed, there is no way the case can move forward. However, even if you file a notice, the government may still be entitled to immunity.

To reiterate, under Indiana’s Tort Claims Act, notice involving claims against the Indiana state government must be filed within 270 days. For claims against political subdivisions of the Indiana government, notice must be filed within 180 days.

Wait for a Response

In Indiana, you can file suit against the government only after the government denies your tort claim notice or fails to respond within 90 days. In rare instances, the government agency may accept your claim and offer a settlement.

File a Lawsuit

To file a personal injury lawsuit against the Indiana government, the negligent conduct in question must be within the employee or contractor’s scope of employment. Only negligence—as opposed to intentional misconduct—falls within the scope of a lawsuit.

In general, claims are only permitted by the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) if the claim is against federal employees or independent contractors. Otherwise, the claim must comply with the laws of the state in which the negligence occurred.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney Today

Filing a personal injury claim against the government isn’t easy, and it’s the type of fight you shouldn’t tackle alone. It’s essential to work with experienced lawyers to sue the federal government or smaller government entity.

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of government negligence, contact an Indianapolis personal injury lawyer from Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

Contact Us

Let WKW put our experience to work for you. Contact us for your free case evaluation.


Or, call us today at (317) 920-6400

Located In Indianapolis
Back to Top