What Is the Missouri Tort Claims Act?
Claims against government entities in Missouri come with more stringent rules than average claims. The Missouri Tort Claims Act is a doctrine dealing with the government’s sovereign immunity from civil lawsuits. “Sovereign immunity” is a legal doctrine that protects the state or government from criminal prosecution and liability for civil wrongs. In essence, sovereign immunity makes it impossible to sue the government, unless said government agrees to the lawsuit. Many states, Missouri included, enacted laws to help citizens hold the government liable for acts of negligence. Missouri’s law is the Tort Claims Act.
When Is It Possible to Sue the Government in Missouri?
Under the Missouri Tort Claims Act, the state and local governments are immune to common law claims against them. There are, however, a few notable exceptions. In the event that a Missouri government agency or employee commits a negligent act or omission that injures someone else, it is within the victim’s rights to file a lawsuit seeking damages from the party at fault. Here are the exceptions to sovereign immunity, as stated in Section 537.600 of the Missouri Revised Statutes:
- If a public employee, within the course of employment, injures someone while operating a motor vehicle or motorized vehicle. The on-duty public employee must be guilty of some negligent act or omission that caused or contributed to the auto accident for a plaintiff to file a claim against the government.
- If a dangerous condition on a public entity’s property caused a related accident and injuries. The injured party will have to prove that the dangerous condition presented a reasonably foreseeable hazard, and that a negligent act, omission, or wrongful act on the part of the defendant contributed to the incident.
Government entities are vicariously liable for the actions of their on-duty employees, just as all employers are to their employees in the state of Missouri. However, the employee must have been performing job-related tasks at the time of the incident for the injured party to have grounds to sue the government. Otherwise, the victim may only have the right to file a claim with the individual’s insurance company.
How to Prove a Claim Against the Government
As with all personal injury claims in Missouri, the injured party will have to prove the government agency’s negligence for the courts to give a judgment award. The plaintiff will need to show evidence that the government agency (or on-duty employee) owed the plaintiff a duty of care, breached this duty in some way (the act of negligence), and that the breach was the proximate, or main, cause of the injuries or property damage in question.
An example of a scenario when one might be able to bring a lawsuit against the Missouri government is if a pothole caused a single-vehicle auto accident. If the injured party can prove that the public body in charge of roadway maintenance reasonably should have known about the roadway defect yet did nothing to repair it, the courts will likely allow recovery. What is “reasonable” comes down to the question of whether a reasonable and prudent person or organization would have repaired the defect or prevented the accident in similar circumstances.
How to File a Claim Against the Government in Missouri
While the Missouri Tort Claims Act makes it possible to sue the government for certain acts of negligence, it doesn’t necessarily make the process easy. While a claimant has a five-year statute of limitations to file a regular claim, he or she typically only has 90 days to bring a formal claim against a government defendant. It’s important to speak to a Kansas City personal injury lawyer as soon as possible upon suspecting a government employee or agency is liable for your recent damages.