Government Liability for Car Accidents

When a government entity or employee acting in an official capacity causes a car accident that leads to an innocent victim being injured, Portland auto accident attorneys are frequently asked about the possibility of successfully filing a claim for compensation.

The truth is suing a government body for their negligence in an injury-related accident is difficult but by no means impossible, in spite of the standard policy of sovereign or governmental tort immunity. This immunity commonly protects agencies or employees from being held liable for their part in an automobile accident, even if they were clearly at fault. However, an experienced Portland auto accident lawyer has a number of avenues they can explore in the fight to get the injured victim a fair settlement.

Immunity can be waived

Oregon, like most states, provides waivers for government employees that prevent them from being sued, even in cases where they would clearly be held liable if they were acting as private citizens. The argument used is that this waiver ultimately protects Oregon taxpayers, because it would be their money that would be paid out in any settlement.

What many people fail to realize is that state and local governments can and do give their consent to be sued. This waiver of sovereign immunity means that people who have been injured in collisions with a government-owned vehicle through no fault of their own, or who were hurt in an accident caused by dangerous road conditions, can receive permission to file a claim for compensation.

When would the government waive their immunity?

As it happens, the most common cases in which state and local governments will waive their immunity from prosecution are for those accidents involving government-owned vehicles. Portland auto accident attorneys find that road users are frequently injured by emergency vehicles such as:

  • Police cars involved in high speed chases
  • Fire trucks rushing to an accident scene or a fire
  • Ambulances trying to get through heavy traffic or busy intersections to get a patient to the hospital

Many Oregon road users have been badly hurt or tragically killed in accidents caused under any of the above circumstances. Police officers have an extremely difficult job, and they certainly do their part to help keep roads safe. However, in circumstances where they are involved in high speed chases, they can become very aggressive with their driving, and this can and does at times lead to innocent people getting hurt.

Any of these cases could be considered exceptions to those where a government employee can claim immunity, and as such, injured victims have the right to file a claim. However, there are certain conditions and requirements before anyone can bring an auto injury lawsuit against a government agency or individual. In vehicle accident cases, the government vehicle must be:

  • Owned or operated by the government entity
  • Operated by a public employee while performing their job, and not in a private capacity
  • In cases where an emergency vehicle is involved, it’s almost impossible to file a successful claim if the person driving the vehicle can prove they had their emergency lights flashing and the siren turned on

No immunity in the event of dangerous highway conditions

Oregon roads are, for the most part, safe and up to standard, but some cases have existed when a Portland auto accident attorney could show a client’s injuries were caused because of hazardous highway or road conditions. In such cases, the government is excluded from claiming immunity. Some conditions that could lead to personal injury claims include:

  • Hazards along the roadside that have caused a crash
  • Sight obstructions that made travel on a particular road more dangerous than should have been the case
  • Pavement edge drops that have caused cars to lose control or even roll over
  • Improperly marked construction zones
  • Unsafe rail crossings

To succeed in these claims, the injured party must prove the roads were in a dangerous condition, that the unsafe conditions are what led to the accident and that the state failed in its duty of care to road users by either allowing, creating or failing to remove the hazard.

Another factor that must be taken into consideration when filing a claim against a government entity is Oregon’s very strict statutes of limitation. Even in cases where the state would be willing to waive immunity, a personal injury case can be completely ruined if a claim isn’t filed on time.

In the case of Oregon government bodies, the statutes of limitations for filing claims are invariably much shorter than the statutes that apply when suing a private individual or even a company. It’s critically important, therefore, if you have been injured in an accident involving a government vehicle, that you contact a reputable firm of Portland auto accident attorneys for a free consultation, and to do so as soon as possible after the accident.

A good personal injury attorney is vital when taking on the might of a government agency, and you can be certain the government employee who injured you will have very good representation of their own. Let a Portland auto accident attorney explain your options and rights. There’s no obligation on your part, and if you do decide to proceed, the lawyer will guide you through the entire process from beginning to end, helping you to get the compensation you and your family both need and deserve.