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Can You Sue a City for a Sidewalk Slip and Fall Accident?

All property owners must take reasonable steps to keep their lands and buildings (premises) free of hazards that could hurt or kill someone.  When they don’t, they can potentially be held liable for any deaths or injuries which occur as a result.  However, special rules apply when the death or injury happens in a public setting, like a city sidewalk in Baltimore.  In this article, our slip and fall accident lawyers will go over some of the legal considerations that apply when suing a government entity in Maryland.

Deadlines for Plaintiffs Are Shortened When Suing Public Entities

The statute of limitations is a tremendously important legal concept which has bearing on all types of criminal and civil cases.  In criminal law, the statute of limitations restricts the amount of time in which the prosecutor may file charges against a given defendant, based on the offense.  In civil law, which includes personal injury cases, the statute of limitations restricts the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a complaint.

If the plaintiff fails to do so before the applicable statute of limitations runs out, or expires, then his or her case will be unable to proceed any further through the court system.  As a result, the plaintiff will lose the opportunity to obtain closure – and compensation – for their injuries and suffering.  Therefore, prompt action following an accident is critical.

The normal statute of limitations on personal injury and wrongful death in Maryland is three years, beginning from the date the injury or death occurs.  However, this deadline is shortened to just one year when filing a claim against a Maryland government entity.  This is established by Md. Code Ann. § 12-106, which states the following:

“A claimant may not institute an action under this subtitle unless the claimant submits a written claim to the Treasurer or a designee of the Treasurer within 1 year after the injury to person or property that is the basis of the claim.”

These provisions are part of the Maryland Tort Claims Act, or MTCA, which sets forth guidelines for suing the state of Maryland.

Your attorney will help you prepare and file the written claim, which must include the following five elements, as provided by Md. Code Ann. § 12-107:

  • A “concise statement of facts” describing the date, location, and nature of the accident.
  • A demand for specific damages (compensation).
  • The name and address of all parties involved in the claim.
  • The name, address, and phone number of your attorney.
  • You or your attorney’s signature.

A suit may not be filed until the claim has been denied by the Treasurer, who must then be served with the appropriate legal documents.  As noted by Md. Code Ann. § 12-108, “Service of the complaint and accompanying documents is sufficient only if made on the Treasurer.”

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Do Cities in Maryland Have Sovereign Immunity?

Sovereign immunity is another way of saying state immunity, and means that government entities and employees are generally exempt from liability in the event of a death or injury.  You can therefore see how sovereign immunity, where applicable, presents a tremendous obstacle to plaintiffs.

Fortunately for sidewalk slip and fall victims in Baltimore and other Maryland cities, Md. Code Ann. § 5-303(b)(2) provides the following: “A local government may not assert governmental or sovereign immunity to avoid the duty to defend or indemnify an employee established in this subsection.”

Moreover, under Md. Code Ann. § 5-303(b)(1), with some exceptions “a local government shall be liable for any judgment against its employee for damages resulting from tortious acts or omissions committed by the employee within the scope of employment with the local government.”  Stated more simply, a city or town can be held liable for the negligent actions of government workers, such as public works maintenance workers who construct and repair sidewalks and roads.

While sovereign immunity cannot be applied to make Maryland or its cities invulnerable to lawsuits, it does impose some restrictions which are detrimental to plaintiffs.  For instance, under Md. Code Ann. § 5-303(a)(1), “The liability of a local government may not exceed $200,000 per an individual claim.”  Additionally, Md. Code Ann. § 5-303(c)(1) provides that “a local government may not be liable for punitive damages.”  (Punitive damages, which are intended to punish defendants for exceptionally egregious misconduct, are sometimes awarded in addition to compensatory damages, which are intended purely to provide compensation for the plaintiff, hence the name.)

If you were injured from falling on a sidewalk in Baltimore, you may be able to recover compensation to help with your medical bills and other financial losses resulting from the accident.  To set up a free and confidential case evaluation, call the premises liability lawyers of Whitney, LLP at (410) 583-8000.

Remember, the deadline for plaintiffs is shorter when suing a public entity, so don’t wait until it’s already too late.  Call us today to get a free assessment of your case.

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