Bringing a Claim Against the Government in Pennsylvania

Until it becomes a necessity, most of us will never even consider the question, “Can I sue the government?” But a fall on a SEPTA bus due to the driver’s negligence, a fall on a city sidewalk that the state is responsible to maintain, or a collision on the road with a government employee who is engaged in state business, unfortunately, means that this question must be considered.

The short answer is yes, you can bring a government injury claim, but only under certain circumstances. The concept of “sovereign immunity” protects the government from liability in many scenarios, but there are significant exceptions. There is also a different timetable for the statute of limitations and different caps on compensation that you must bear in mind.

Can I Sue the Government in Pennsylvania?


The government is protected by laws at both the federal and state levels granting it immunity, or “sovereign immunity,” from most civil and criminal prosecution. This concept dates back to British rule, where the monarchy was protected from prosecution even when a citizen was harmed by the government’s actions. However, state governments have created statutes that allow exceptions to this rule.

In Pennsylvania, the government can be sued when two conditions are met. First, the injured party must have a case that would have merited damages in a normal, civil case. Second, the circumstances must fit one of the exceptions as defined below.

Pennsylvania Government Liability in Personal Injury Claims

Media, PA Courthouse

You may bring a government injury claim in the following circumstances when a government worker or property is involved:

Motor vehicle accidents: A pedestrian, cyclist, or automobile driver can sue if involved in an accident with the driver of a government vehicle who is involved in state business at the time of the incident.

Medical malpractice: You may sue if you or a loved one have been injured by medical personnel such as a doctor, dentist, or nurse at a Pennsylvania medical facility.

Care, custody, or control of personal property: This exception governs the involvement of government personal property as opposed to real estate property that has caused injury to citizens.

Care, custody, or control of animals: This provision covers any injury you may have sustained due to negligence of a state employee in the control of a police dog, horse, or other animals.

Potholes and other dangerous conditions: The government may be held liable for personal injury caused by potholes or other dangerous road conditions. The government must have been advised in writing that the conditions could cause harm and must have been given enough time to fix them. Property damage does not apply here.

Liquor liability: The state may have liability in cases where a government employee serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person, minor, etc.

Premises liability: Injury on government property, such as slips and falls, may be prosecuted.

National guard activities: The government is liable for negligent and harmful activities of members of the military.

Commonwealth real estate, highways, and sidewalks: The state can be sued for injury caused by any dangerous condition on any property owned, leased, or controlled by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Sidewalks and highways are included in this item.

Medical Substances: Injury from a vaccine or medical substance manufactured by the state.

Sexual assaults: Sexual assault by a government employee may be included depending on the specifics of the case.

Statute of Limitations

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If you are familiar with the laws governing a personal injury case against another citizen, note that you will not have two years to file per the usual procedure. When dealing with the government, you will only have 6 months to file after which your claim will almost certainly be rejected.

Some exceptions to the six-month rule do apply. The statute of limitations for children does not begin until they turn eighteen. Also, an incapacitated person has up to 90 days to recover from their injuries before their six-month period begins.

Your attorney will make the relevant governmental agency aware of your complaint by sending written notice that includes the name of the person or persons you allege are responsible; the name and address of the person or persons who have been harmed; the day, time, and location of the incident; and the name and address of your doctor.

Maximum Awards Against the Government in Pennsylvania

The caps on relief for citizens when the government is the defendant are surprisingly low. No matter your injuries, there is a $250,000 limit for a single person and a one million dollar limit for each incident regardless of the number of people involved. The types of damages are limited to present and future lost earnings, pain and suffering, medical and dental expenses, property losses, and loss of consortium. These limits make it imperative that you enlist the services of a highly experienced attorney.

Donaghue & Labrum

Going up against the government takes experience and know-how. You need representation that knows how to leverage the law to work in your favor. At Donaghue & Labrum, we have been representing clients who have been injured on government property or by agents of the government for nearly 4 decades. This fight is too important to settle for an attorney without the necessary experience. We fight tirelessly every day for victims who have been injured due to no fault of their own. Contact us today to discuss your case!