Posted in News on July 24, 2017
Despite working for the government or a municipality, drivers of emergency vehicles, mail trucks, and cargo vans are just like any other roadway users – they make mistakes behind the wheel. When these mistakes lead to someone else’s serious injury or wrongful death, it can result in a lawsuit against the responsible party. The government isn’t always immune to lawsuits, but there are specific rules victims must follow to successfully bring a claim. Here’s what to do in these unique situations.
Understand Sovereign Immunity
Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that protects the state and federal governments from civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions. It makes the sovereign state exempt from jurisdiction, unless the entity agrees to the lawsuit. A state can waive its immunity with a written agreement or by submitting to jurisdiction as a defendant. This does not mean you don’t have rights or options after an accident with a fire truck or mail carrier in your city. You can still pursue a claim, but you have to follow a different set of rules than a typical personal injury suit:
- Submit a claim to the department of administration. This is the most important step, as it has a strict deadline. The Montana Code Section 2-9-301 outlines the process of filing claims against the state. You typically have six months from the date of the accident or the date of discovery of injuries to file this claim with the administration.
- Wait for a reply. The Department of Administration has 120 days from the time it receives the claim to file its reply. The department may either grant or deny the claim in writing. Failure to reply within 120 days is the equivalent of a final denial of the claim.
- Pursue compensation. If the department grants the claim, you will enter into settlement negotiations. Seek help from an attorney for this process, as it can be difficult to go up against municipalities and major insurance companies. If the department denies your claim or you cannot reach a settlement, your case will go to trial.
Trials involving government entities in Montana are much the same as other personal injury trials. The plaintiff will have to prove the defendant’s negligence in causing the truck accident, such as distracted driving or a broken roadway rule. The judge will then decide whether the defendant is liable for the accident. If the court rules in the plaintiff’s favor, it will issue an award amount to compensate the plaintiff for his/her medical bills, pain and suffering, missed time at work, and emotional distress.
Learn When the Government Is Liable for an Accident
Like other car accident cases, the government may be liable for a collision if the driver was acting negligently, recklessly, or criminally. The rules of vicarious liability make the employer liable for a driver’s actions, if the driver is an employee. This would most likely be the case in a collision with a fire truck, ambulance, mail carrier, cargo truck, and other government vehicles. Suing the employer typically means suing the state or county government. The government may also be liable for your car accident if it involved:
- Hazardous obstacles in the road
- Loose gravel or uneven pavement
- Unmarked construction zones
- Obstructions in the line of sight
- Hidden roadway signs
- Malfunctioning traffic lights
State and federal agencies are responsible for the construction and maintenance of roadways throughout Montana. If a roadway condition caused or contributed to your accident, you may have a case against the government body in charge of the area. Always speak to a lawyer in a vehicle crash involving a government agency. Our Billings truck accident attorney can help you file the right paperwork within the appropriate time limit.