If you live in the Phoenix area, it is rare to take a drive without seeing a government-owned vehicle. But, what happens when you are struck by one? Can you sue? Who do you sue? Who pays? If you were in an accident with a government vehicle do not be intimidated—you have options.
What is a Government Vehicle?
Federal, state and local governments own and operate a variety of vehicles including:
- mail trucks
- garbage trucks
- city or school buses
- road construction vehicles
- emergency response vehicles like police cars, fire trucks or ambulances
- government official or employee in a privately-owned or government-owned vehicle
While some vehicles may appear to be owned by the government, there are private entities and state-subsidized or state-funded entities that sound like they may be government-owned but are not.
Government Vehicle Accidents—Not Your Typical Accident
Immunity from Lawsuits
Accidents involving government vehicles can be tricky because of a legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity. Also referred to as government immunity, these laws protect the government from lawsuits. The Federal Tort Claims Act governs federal immunity from lawsuits; the Arizona Tort Claims Act governs claims against the State of Arizona. Fortunately, this immunity is not absolute and there are circumstances where the government is not immune from suit.
Whether you have the right to sue the government will depend, in part, on what the employee driver was doing at the time. Was the employee on a work-related trip or a non-government errand? Was the employee exhibiting reckless behaviors like texting while driving, disobeying traffic laws, or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs? If an employee was acting within the scope of their employment you may be able to sue the government. If the employee was acting outside the scope of their employment, you may be able to pursue recovery against the person in their individual capacity. A skilled Phoenix accident attorney can help you evaluate the best course of action for your case.
Filing Administrative Claims—Beware of the Deadlines
Dealing with the government is different than getting into an accident with an individual because, before filing a lawsuit against the government you will likely need to file an administrative claim. The time limit to file an administrative claim varies depending on the level of government and agency, but the deadline is short and can catch you by surprise if you are not paying attention.
- Claims against the federal government must be filed within two years from the date of the incident; claims against the State of Arizona must be filed in 180 days.
After you submit an administrative claim, the government will evaluate the claim and determine whether to settle or reject it. The federal agency has six months to respond; an Arizona state agency has 60 days to respond. If the government rejects your claim or offers only partial payment, you can file suit. If an Arizona agency does not respond to your claim within 60 days, your claim is considered denied.
- Lawsuits against a federal agency must be filed within six months from the date your claim was denied.
- Lawsuits against the State of Arizona must be filed within one year from the filing of the claim.
Municipalities like counties and cities may have similar rules. Consult with a Phoenix attorney to help you decipher the requirements and ensure you meet all deadlines. Failing to meet a deadline may waive your right to pursue a claim.
So, Who Can You Sue?
When deciding who to sue, the first question you must consider is who owned the vehicle. Federal, state and local laws may differ slightly, so it is critical you identify the owner.
Next, you need to evaluate whether the at-fault driver was acting within the scope of their employment. If not, you may need to take action against the personally individually.
What to Do After an Accident with A Government Vehicle
- Call the police. A police report will document the accident and include important details like the names and contact information for the people involved, and a description of the accident.
- Get medical attention. If you or any other person is injured, make sure that medical care is rendered as soon as possible.
- Photograph the scene and damages. Take photographs of the scene, your injuries and any damage to your vehicle and property.
- Talk to an attorney. Recovering damages for a government vehicle accident is different from other auto accidents. To ensure you meet all deadlines and take the best course possible, enlist the help of an attorney. Many attorneys provide free consultations.
- Contact the government agency. Contact the government agency that owns or operates the vehicle. They may have a specific process or form for filing a claim. Keep in mind government deadlines tend to be short in comparison to traditional court deadlines, so do not delay in taking action.
Government vehicle accidents are complicated and time consuming, but you do not have to shoulder that burden on your own. Consult with the Kelly Law Team about the best course of action for your case. Contact us today at 602-283-4122 for a free consultation.