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What Is Governmental Immunity in Massachusetts?

Published in Civil Law, Personal Injury on November 29, 2019

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Governmental immunity, also called sovereign immunity, is a rule that traditionally protected the government from liability for its actions or those of its employees, even when those actions caused personal injuries. The original governmental immunity rule held that the government would not be liable for its actions or decisions, even if they were negligent and resulted in harm. Thanks to the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, however, citizens may now bring lawsuits against public employers in specific situations.

Breaking Down Government Immunity

The federal government has waived its immunity from liability for most acts of negligence or wrongdoing. The federal government is still immune, however, to tort actions based on false arrest, defamation, misrepresentation, assault and battery. Most state governments, including Massachusetts, have also waived governmental immunity for specific torts. The rules that may apply to your case depend on the circumstances.

Examples of Claims Against the Government

In Massachusetts, a public employer could be civilly liable for a victim’s damages if one of its employees negligently or intentionally caused the harm in question. Like most states, Massachusetts enacted a Tort Claims Act to give residents the ability to file injury lawsuits against the government in certain situations.

  • Negligent operation of a government vehicle. Operating a government-owned vehicle such as a public bus, United States Postal Service vehicle, police car, fire truck or secret service vehicle negligently or recklessly could expose the public employer to liability for a related vehicle accident.
  • Dangerous public property defects or hazards. Public places in Boston are not immune to safety hazards that may cause serious visitor injuries. Examples include defective sidewalks, unsafe staircases, violent criminals, loose dogs and hazardous substances. A government entity could face a premises liability lawsuit for these risks.
  • Medical malpractice in a state-run facility. If you or a loved one suffered harm while seeking treatment at a state-run medical facility, the employer could be financially responsible for your damages. This may include veterans hospitals and state university teaching hospitals. Learn more about medical malpractice lawsuits by scheduling a free consultation with our Boston medical malpractice lawyer.
  • Negligence or wrongful acts by police officers. You may have grounds for a claim against the government if a law enforcement officer committed misconduct, brutality or negligence that led to your injuries or losses. The city or state government could absorb liability for the actions of its officers.

Under the state’s Tort Claims Act, an injured victim could file a liability claim against a public employer for any negligence, wrongful act or omission by a public employee while on the job. If the injured party would have the right to bring a lawsuit against a private individual, he or she will be able to file a claim against the public employer.

Making a Claim Under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act

Bringing a personal injury or premises liability lawsuit against a government entity in Massachusetts comes with specific rules and requirements. If you wish to make a claim under the state’s Tort Claims Act, you must file a claim with the correct municipality, such as the City of Boston, within the time limit. You have two years from the date of your injury to present a claim in writing to the executive officer of the allegedly at-fault employer. The employer then has six months to respond to your claim. If the employer rejects the claim, you may then go to the Court of Claims with your case.

Although the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act exposes government entities to liability for negligent or wrongful acts, it does not make bringing or winning a claim easy. The best way to protect your rights if you believe a government employee caused your recent injuries is to hire an injury attorney in Boston. A personal injury lawyer will know how to navigate the state’s Tort Claims Act during a personal injury or premises liability claim. By hiring an attorney, you can focus on healing while your lawyer handles your claim against the government.

For more information, call our law office at (617)-391-9001. Or if you would prefer to email us, then please visit our contact page.

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