Suing The Government: Exceptions to Sovereign Immunity

Today we received a telephone call from a client who had been injured on some school property. The client was vaguely aware of the doctrine of sovereign immunity and unfortunately for this particular person their claim was completely barred by operation of law. Why: because of the doctrine of Sovereign Immunity?
The law has long been that lawsuits against government official performing their discretionary and official job functions are discouraged. If it were not otherwise there would be litigation every time someone disagreed with what a government official did or how they performed their job, particularly if they claim to have been damaged by unskillful performance. Over the years more and more barriers have arisen with respect to tort claims against governmental entities. The obvious policy reason behind this doctrine is to protect government officials from being sued when performing their official functions on behalf of the public at large. It’s application can sometimes be harsh, but public policy cannot allow government officials to be sued for allegedly unwise decisions. That would surely open the proverbial floodgates as almost everyone at times questions the wisdom of public officials.
In future blogs we are going to talk briefly about how one can sue their government when they are injured by the negligent acts of a government agent or employee. As an example, if the United States Government is involved, one must be familiar with the Federal Tort Claims Act. If the State of Georgia is involved, one must be familiar with the State Tort Claims Act. If a county or municipality is involved, one must be familiar with the legions of cases that spell out the distinction between protected discretionary acts for which there is official immunity and the difference between cases involving a breach of ministerial duties for which there may be the possibility of a viable claim.
In our future blogs we will talk about exceptions to sovereign immunity and how it is still possible in certain limited contexts to obtain compensation for injuries caused by government officials. While sovereign immunity is still a bar to many otherwise valid claims based on public policy in this area, nonetheless, there are ways to obtain compensation for injuries and damages incurred by innocent victims of governmental negligence. The controlling legal issue for lawyers who seek to serve clients with such claims is to find a legal exception to the doctrine of sovereign immunity, to know when exceptions apply and to know how to survive a Motion to Dismiss based on a legal defense of sovereign immunity. As indicated, we will address this topic in future entries.

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