Sovereign Immunity and the Mass Tort Claims Act

In a previous post discussing Premises Liability, we briefly noted two (2) relevant legal doctrines – Attractive Nuisance and Sovereign Immunity. We recently discussed the Attractive Nuisance doctrine, so today will be focusing on the doctrine of Sovereign Immunity and its codification under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act.

As discussed in previous posts, if you were injured in a car accident or on the property of another, you likely have a cause of action against those persons. However, what happens when the driver of that other car is a government employee or the property you were injured on is a government building? In Massachusetts, it is much harder to file a lawsuit and win when the other party is the government. As you may have guessed, this is due to the aforementioned principle known as Sovereign Immunity.

Sovereign Immunity is a very old legal premise that basically states that the sovereign, i.e., the government in this country, cannot be sued even if an individual is harmed by the acts, decisions, or inactions of the government. It dates back to English law, where people were unable to sue the king. Even in this brief explanation, you can see that this is an exceptionally broad principle that absolves the government of virtually all tortious acts. However, there are limits to Sovereign Immunity. 

In an effort to reduce the scope of Sovereign Immunity and provide certain plaintiffs with some recourse for their injuries, Massachusetts has passed the Tort Claims Act (hereinafter, “MTCA”). While the government is still afforded a great deal of protection – protections that exceed those afforded to a normal property or business owner – the MTCA does provide an avenue for a harmed individual to sue the government through negligence claims. 

Section 2 of the MTCA states that “public employees shall be liable for injury or loss of property or personal death” caused by negligence, wrongful acts, or omissions. The MTCA also lays out specific situations where a negligence lawsuit is allowed. Examples of these situations include negligently operating a government vehicle (e.g., a USPS truck or public bus); defects or hazards in public buildings; medical malpractice by healthcare providers at a state-run facility; and police brutality or negligence. The MTCA caps damages at $100,000; however, all claims for serious bodily injury against the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority are not subject to this limitation. 

There are also specific requirements in filing a lawsuit. The plaintiff must first present the claim to the employer in charge of the defendant employee. The claim must be presented within two (2) years of the date of the injury. The plaintiff cannot file the claim with the Court of Claims until the employer has accepted or rejected it. The employer must do this within six (6) months of receiving it. If the claim is rejected, the plaintiff may then file the claim with the Court of Claims. The statute of limitations for filing an MTCA claim with the Court of Claims is six (6) months. 

As you can see, filing a claim under the MTCA can be a complicated matter, one that could take over a year to unfold. Even if you feel you have a clear cut case, it is in your interest to consult with an experienced attorney on how to locate the employer in charge of the defendant employee and how to file with the Court of Claims if that claim is rejected by the employer. 

If you’ve been injured by a government employee, it’s important to act fast. There are many limitations on these cases, and they need to be given attention right away. Call the Personal Injury lawyers at Marcotte Law Firm for a free, no obligation consultation.

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