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How to Sue a City for Negligence

Updated May 3, 2023 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

Suing a City for Negligence

Personal injury law is the section of law surrounding situations of injury, whether that be physical, emotional, or mental injury, due to someone else’s negligence or carelessness. Personal injury law can cover cases such as brain injuries, burn injuries, spinal cord injuries, and wrongful death. Typically, in personal injury cases, plaintiffs seek compensation from the party who caused harm. There may be cases with punitive damage in which the guilty party is punished. There also may be the cases when filing a claim against a non-government entity, but what if the negligent party is a part of the government? Can you sue a city for personal injury?

Personal Injury and Suing a City in Indiana

In some cases, a personal injury due to negligence by a city can be brought to trial; there are ways that you can sue the city for personal injury. The steps it takes to file a lawsuit against a municipality is complicated because of sovereign immunity. Indiana Code IC 34-13-3-3 lists immunity of governmental entities or employees. Sovereign immunity itself is a legal doctrine declaring immunity from prosecution or civil suits. This complicates matters when trying to sue a city. We return to the question: Can you sue a city? The answer: It’s not impossible.

Say you’re driving through an intersection and a government vehicle such as a police car or a mail carrier hits you. Will suing the city for a car accident work in your favor? Well, it is all in the details. Conditions of making a claim against the city depend on the evidence that you can collect proving that the government employee or entity was acting outside of the confines of sovereign immunity. What if you’re walking on the sidewalk and the snow covers up a large hole not filled in by the city? Does suing a municipality for negligence work? Again, it’s all in the detail of evidence. That’s why evidence collecting is essential, yet only one step in the process of how to sue a city.

Initial Steps

Before any legal steps can be taken, make sure that you are safe. When involved in a personal injury, taking these steps is most important and may even provide evidence later when you do file a claim:

  1. Seek Medical Attention: get to the most appropriate medical facility available (emergency room, general physician, healthcare clinic). For insurance purposes, most companies recommend getting help within 72 hours. Be honest with your doctor about pain levels and your condition.
  2. Avoid Talking About Your Case: only you, your doctor, and your attorney should have the full information about your injury and your case. Times such as these do call for support from friends and family, and that’s important, but keeping close attention to the information you share is essential.
  3. Gather Evidence and Documentation: as mentioned previously, this part of the process is key in how to sue the city. Gathering evidence includes:
    • Physical evidence such as clothes with blood on them, insurance and/or purchase receipts of any medical equipment needed because of the accident. Physical evidence in personal injury lawsuits vary case-by-case.
    • Photographs of the scene of the accident and your injuries. If possible, take a video right away after the accident. Make sure all media is time stamped as well.
    • Personal narrative, which is a written statement of what happened. We recommend documenting this right away while the details are still fresh in your mind.
    • Witness statements go a long way. Try your best to get contact information from the people who witnessed or potentially witnessed (they may have been looking through an office window) the incident for potential future statements.
    • Medical records that document your injuries, such as lab results, bills, discharge papers, and diagnosis reports.
    • Police reports if a police report was filed.

What Is Needed in a Case to Sue the City

When you are looking to sue the city, a process that needs to be exact and should be assisted by an attorney experienced with state and city code laws, requires some basic tools for building a case:

  1. Establishing liability, also known as determining fault, is essential in these cases. Because city codes on immunity and limitation are so complicated, it’s necessary to have a sturdy foundation of who was at fault and proving that responsibility lies outside the confines of city code immunity.
  2. Again, reiterating the importance of evidence, you need to be able to prove that there was a breach of care from the city, meaning the city did not meet required standards of care.
  3. You will need to prove that the breach of injury mentioned before is the reason you were/are injured.
  4. An actual injury needs to be included in the case. Your medical records are important in this presentation of needs.

When you have all of your supporting evidence, you are ready to build your case and file a notice.

How to File a Lawsuit Against a City

Suing a city for negligence is much different than filing a lawsuit against a private entity. When it comes to the timing on statute of limitations, most personal injury cases where the private sector is involved are set at two years under Indiana Code section 34-11-2-4. But when it comes to suing a city for negligence, Indiana Code section 34-13-3-5 tells you that you only have 180 days to file a complaint after you are allowed to pursue a case. This leads to the steps you take in filing a lawsuit against the city.

  1. File A Tort Claim Notice

If you are claiming a case of personal injury or property damage against the state of Indiana or a city in Indiana, you need to fill out a tort claim notice with the attorney general. This gives the government the ability to investigate your claim. To clarify: filing a tort claim notice is the first step in the process, and the government can still claim immunity. Once again, when filing against a city or municipality specifically, you have 180 days to file a notice.

  1. Wait For A Response 

In order to move forward with your lawsuit, you must wait for the Indiana government to either deny your tort claim notice or fail to respond within 90 days. It is possible for the city to accept your claim and offer a settlement, but it is unlikely.

  1. File A Lawsuit 

This is where the negligence of the government in your case matters most. You must be able to prove to a court that the city did, in fact, practice negligence and you were/are injured because of said negligence. Again, this has to do with the immunity of city entities and employees. Hiring an experienced lawyer to help you with this is invaluable.

Something to point out is that when your claim is against federal employees or individual contractors, they are generally reviewed by The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). In the case of suing a city (or state), the claim must comply with state laws, which vary depending on the state in which the accident occurred.

Contact the Experienced Indiana Personal Injury Attorneys at WKW

Suing a city is a complicated process, one that a victim should not have to go through alone. Hiring attorneys with experience in personal injury and city lawsuits will help you get the compensation and support you deserve.  Personal injury lawsuits have been the primary focus of our law firm for more than 30 years. Our personal injury lawyers at Wilson Kehoe Winingham are here to work with you on your claim against the government. Contact us online or give us a call at 317.886.1924 as soon as possible for a free consultation.

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