Government Liability for Auto Accidents & Sovereign Immunity

If you are in a car accident in Iowa, you have a right to forego the car insurance system and instead file a personal injury lawsuit for damages in civil court. In most cases, the law is relatively straightforward for filing a personal injury claim – a claim must be filed within two years' time, and negligence, causation and damages must be proven to establish liability.

Government liability for auto accidents comes into play when a government employee causes a car accident (driving a government vehicle). The claims process is much more confusing, and you may have the option of filing a claim against the individual driver or the state. If you’ve been in a car accident with a government employee in Des Moines, here’s what you need to know about the requirements for filing a claim.

Sovereign Immunity in Iowa Waived for Certain Actions

Most states, Iowa included, have sovereign immunity laws that protect them from certain types of lawsuits. According to Chapter 669 – State Tort Claims of Iowa Code, “the immunity of the state from suit and liability is waived” for certain actions, including a car accident caused by government employee negligence. However, while immunity is waived in certain situations, there is still an extensive process for filing a claim. The government also cannot be held liable for punitive damages.

Statute of Limitations for Filing a Claim Against the Government

The first thing that’s important to note that when suing a government entity is that before a lawsuit can even be filed, a notice of intent to sue must be served to the attorney general or the attorney general’s duly authorized delegate. If you do not file a notice of claim with the attorney general, then you cannot file a lawsuit for damages. Under Iowa law, you have two years to file a claim against a government entity. Once the attorney general has made a final disposition about the claim (the attorney general has the right to decide if the claim filed is not permitted for any reason, according to Section 669.18 Iowa State Tort Claims code), this two-year period may be extended for an additional six months.

Reporting an Accident Immediately is Essential

In addition to ensuring that your claim is filed within the statue of limitations, it is important to note that if you are involved in an accident with a government vehicle and want to file suit against the state of Iowa, you must report the accident to government authorities (if the accident caused more than $1,000 worth of damages) within 72 hours. If you do not report the accident, then not only may you forfeit your right to a lawsuit, but you also may have your driver’s license suspended, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation.

What damages are available in a suit against the government?

If you decide to file a lawsuit against a government entity, the damages you may be able to recover are the same as they would be in a lawsuit against a person or business. While punitive damages are not allowed, both economic and noneconomic damages are permitted.

Why an Attorney is Essential When Pursuing a Claim Against the Government

As mentioned above, whether or not a claim against a government entity for an accident caused by a government employee is allowed in Des Moines and greater Iowa is up to the discretion of the state’s attorney general. As such, having an attorney on your side who can help file a convincing notice of claim, prepare evidence and build a case is essential.

What’s more, the laws regarding a lawsuit against the government are extremely complex and difficult to navigate without a legal background. To help understand your rights and options, as well as who may be liable for your injuries (the individual who caused the accident or the government entity under which the person is employed), you need to contact the attorneys at Walker, Billingsley & Bair now. You can reach us today at 888-435-9886 or contact us online.

Corey Walker
With over 20 years legal experience, Corey has been recognized for his work as an injury attorney.