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Cities Can Be Held Liable for Some Accident Injuries

A Municipality May Have to Pay for Your Accident Injuries

If you've been hurt on public property in Pennsylvania, you may be able to sue the applicable municipality under certain circumstances. Nationwide, large cities incur median annual costs for personal injury settlements of $12,026,044. State law outlines 10 exceptions to sovereign immunity that grant victims the right to pursue damages from governmental agencies for issues like car accidents, road damage, sexual abuse, property damage, or medical negligence.

What Damages Can a Victim Seek From a City?

For the most part, you can claim compensation for expenses similar to what a settlement from a private party might include. Depending on what losses you can document, a municipality may have to pay:
  • Past and future losses of earnings
  • Pain and suffering
  • Medical and dental expenses
  • Loss of consortium
  • Property losses
Punitive damages will not be recoverable from a local government agency. During a consultation, an Allentown personal injury attorney may provide you with greater detail about what injury expenses may be recoverable in your case.

Common Types of Municipal Accidents

Because cities own and manage public properties and have workers driving vehicles, municipalities can bear liability for:
  • Slip and falls
  • Car and truck accidents
  • Mass transit accidents
  • Animal attacks, under certain circumstances
Overall, most any kind of accident caused by a city's negligence may expose the municipality to liability for the victim's losses. Title 42, Section 8542 sets forth that you have a right to make an accident claim against a city if: 1. You would normally have the right to make a claim against a private party for the same accident AND 2. The negligence of the city or its employees resulted in your injuries or property damage.

Short Statute of Limitations

Unlike personal injury claims against private parties, you have at most six months to notify a city of your need for compensation. However, municipalities may establish their own deadlines within their city laws that can be as short as 30 days. The tight deadlines do not mean that your claim must be resolved within that timeframe. You need only to initiate the process within the statute of limitations by filing your Notice of Claim. This document will include:
  • Your name and address
  • The date and hour of the accident
  • The location of the accident
  • The name of your medical care provider
You may want the assistance of a personal injury lawyer when notifying a city of your accident. A law firm could investigate the precise statute of limitation applicable in the city where your accident occurred.

Dangerous Street Conditions

Cities are responsible for maintaining many sections of roads within their limits. A city government can fail in many ways in regard to roadway safety. The problem might come from unattended road damage or lack of warnings about hazards. Common road issues that can impose liability on a city include:
  • Vegetation growing over street signs
  • Malfunctioning traffic signals
  • Deep potholes that damage vehicles
  • Poorly marked street lanes
  • Missing guardrails
  • Missing signage
  • Insufficient warnings about construction work
Some of these issues result in vehicle collisions. At the time of your crash, you might not be immediately aware that city negligence contributed to your accident. An investigation by an Allentown accident lawyer could uncover this detail. This is why you might have heard that an accident victim should take pictures of the accident scene. Such pictures could provide evidence that lane markings had faded from streets or signs were missing.

Sidewalk Injuries

Sidewalks throughout cities can be a source of accidents. Concrete sections heaved up by tree roots or water damage can create uneven surfaces that trip pedestrians. Because cities build and maintain these public paths, they have a legal duty to keep them in safe condition.

Premises Liability

A slip and fall on municipal property raises the issue of premises liability. Cities need to correct hazards to public safety in buildings, facilities, and parks. Until a city can fix an unsafe condition, it needs to warn people about the problem and try to keep them away from the hazard.

Collisions With City Vehicles

As part of their duties, many city workers have to drive on the job. Whether they are operating passenger vehicles or garbage trucks, they still have to obey the rules of the road. The driving errors or recklessness of municipal employees may make the city ultimately at fault for your motor vehicle accident injuries.

Reasonably Foreseeable Risk

Many areas that create liability for a municipality rely on the city having the ability to know about the hazard. The term "reasonably foreseeable risk" represents the concept that the city needs to have notice of the problem. If the city has no documented notice about the issue, then its lawyers might argue that it was not negligent because it had no opportunity to warn others. However, if you can show that the city should have known and had sufficient time to correct the hazard, then liability may remain. Reasonably foreseeable risk can sometimes be a point of contention when suing a city. When evidence supports your accusation of liability, an Allentown personal injury attorney may strive to communicate your case clearly and effectively. When you retain legal representation, you will not be on your own during the evidence collection process. A personal injury law office has the resources to conduct a thorough investigation. A legal representative could arrange for:
  • Testimony from an accident reconstruction professional
  • Interviews of witnesses
  • Testimony from a medical expert about your injuries
  • Photographing of an accident scene
  • Appraisal of property damage

Steps for Suing a City for an Accident

As an accident victim, you will launch your action by notifying the city about your injury within the statutory deadline. After that, you would try to settle the matter through an administrative process that would likely involve the city's legal counsel and insurer. Although you may not need to file an actual lawsuit, legal support can aid your pursuit of an out-of-court settlement. An attorney may assemble evidence about why your accident happened, who was at fault, and the extent of your financial losses. The lawyer will then present it to the appropriate city agency for processing. Only if these administrative efforts fail to produce an acceptable settlement would you then file a lawsuit. Your lawsuit might nudge the city toward offering an adequate settlement prior to the completion of a trial. If that does not occur, a jury will decide whether you receive compensation or not.

Free Initial Consultation

You can obtain a legal opinion about your accident case against a city or other local government from Metzger & Kleiner. We understand that the physical and financial stress caused by your injuries can add to the frustration of trying to get answers from a governmental agency. Our personal injury law firm has represented all kinds of accident cases against individuals, large companies, and municipalities. We welcome the opportunity to learn more about your accident during a no-obligation consultation. To schedule an appointment with an Allentown personal injury attorney, contact our Lehigh Valley office today at (610) 435-7400.

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