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What happens if you are hurt by a government employee? Can you sue them? Well, like life, it is complicated. But just like the Carby and Carby slogan says, we are here to help. First you need a little background on why its complicated to sue the government for negligence.
It is important to say at the outset that this post deals with claims of negligence, not claims against the government for violations of constitutional rights. We handle those too, but today we are going to talk about negligence.
Back in the days of kings and queens, you could not seek redress against the crown. Royalty did whatever they wanted behind the shield of what was known as sovereign immunity. This was the case in the early United States as well. If you were negligently injured by the government, you had to convince Congress to pass a bill that would authorize compensation to you. Yes, an actual act of Congress was required. As you can imagine, this was wildly inconvenient and fraught with delay and difficulty.
Starting in the mid-1850s, the US government started rolling this rule back, but it was not until after World War II that Congress created the Federal Tort Claims Act. Prior to this Act, government agencies, officers and employees were protected by sovereign immunity and simply could not be sued for wrongdoing that occurred while in the course of official duty. But after the Federal Tort Claim Act, federal courts could hold the federal government liable for the wrongful acts of federal agencies and employees. It was said that the government waived its sovereign immunity. However, there were many exceptions to this waiver where the government retained its sovereign immunity and still could not be sued.
There are tons of rules, exceptions, quirks, and stumbling blocks in this body of law, but suffice it to say that a private citizen can sue the federal government for negligence.
Mississippi has enacted a similar rule. This is the case on the state level as well as at the county and city level. Mississippi waived its sovereign immunity in some circumstances but kept that immunity in others. In fact, those exemptions to liability are so various that they have come to be known as Frasier’s Octopus after a 1999 Ole Miss law journal article where the author Jim Frasier said that the exemptions were “like an octopus’s arms; even if one doesn’t get you, another one may.”
Just like the federal government, Mississippi does not make it easy to sue. The state is given multiple special defenses not available to private defendants. In addition to immunity and special defenses, there are also several procedural hurdles that only apply to Tort Claim Act cases. One of the most significant issues is a hard cap of $500,000.00 in damages, no matter what the economic loss is caused by the government. We call it a hard cap because it is a total limitation of liability. No matter badly someone is injured, the government entity is only liable for $500,000.00 in compensation for damages.
Carby and Carby has handled multiple Tort Claim Act cases, both in Mississippi and federal court. We have tried a Mississippi case to a successful plaintiff’s verdict. The defendant appealed and we kept our verdict after review by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
If you believe you have a case against a state or federal entity, give us a call. We have the expertise to advise you and the ability to take the case to verdict if necessary. Please Contact our Natchez, MS office by calling (601) 445-5011.