The Virginia Tort Claims Act recognizes that anyone can commit a negligent act and injure others. State employees like truck drivers and equipment operators are just as capable of causing injuries as their private counterparts.
A tort claims act like Virginia’s recognizes that victims hurt by government actors deserve compensation just as other injury victims do.
This does not mean, though, that suing a state employee or agency is as straightforward as suing a private entity. While the Virginia Tort Claims Act provides a path to recovery, it is a narrow one that you must follow precisely. Missing a deadline or skipping a step can lead to a denial of your claim for recovery. Talk to a Virginia personal injury lawyer about your case.
The History Behind Tort Claims Act
Centuries ago, in the times of monarchs and powerful governments, people could not bring suit against the government or ruler. This is the doctrine of sovereign immunity — the sovereign is immune from any legal liability for its actions.
Governments could, with impunity, commit any act that would otherwise cause a court to hold a private person financially responsible for damages.
The only way a private citizen could hold a sovereign responsible for injuries the citizen suffered was if the sovereign consented to the lawsuit. If the sovereign agreed to be sued, then the lawsuit could proceed, and the citizen could recover damages.
Tort claims acts like Virginia’s are the government’s consent to suit. It permits lawsuits against the government and its officers and employees to proceed.
The Government Sets the Rules with Virginia Tort Claims Act
Because of sovereign immunity, the government gets to also decide the conditions under which it will be sued. The government itself, through its tort claims act, dictates the conditions you must meet if you intend to use it. These conditions include:
- Deadlines within which you must take certain actions
- Prerequisites that you must meet before you file your lawsuit
- Certain actions for which you cannot sue the government
- Specific individuals that are immune from suit altogether
- Limitations on the damages you can recover
Because the rules of the Virginia Tort Claims Act differ from those that govern personal injury cases, hiring an experienced personal injury attorney is important. Failing to abide by the rules of a tort claims act means a dismissal of your claim without any meaningful opportunity to appeal.
Specifics of the Virginia Tort Claims Act
Each state is free to craft its own tort claims act. Some of the notable provisions of Virginia’s act include:
Applicability Only to Ordinary Negligence
The limitations contained in the Virginia Tort Claims Act apply to claims premised on ordinary negligence. They do not cover claims that an employee or agency acted without any care or regard at all. Nor does the tort claims act affect a claim that alleges an injury occurred due to intentional conduct.
Time to Initiate a Claim
The Virginia Tort Claims Act gives you one year from the date of your injury to initiate the claims process. You satisfy this requirement if you deliver your claim to the appropriate individual or office:
- If it is the Department of Transportation, you file your claim with the Commissioner of Highways
- A claim against a transportation district should go to the chairperson of the transportation district’s commission
- Any other personal injury claim goes to the attorney general or the director of the Division of Risk Management
However, if you are suing a county, city, or local government or employee thereof, the deadline is different. You have 180 days from the date of your injury accident to initiate suit. You would file your claim with the mayor, the entity’s chief executive, or the attorney for the entity.
Your Duty to Prove Receipt of Your Claim
Not only this, but the law places the burden on you, the claimant, to show that you properly delivered your claim in a timely manner. Hand-delivering your claim and sending it via certified mail are two ways by which you can meet your obligation.
Remember that you must deliver your claim, not merely postmark it, within the applicable time period.
Exceptions for Actual Notice and Disability
If the Division of Risk Management, the attorney general, or an insurer providing indemnification of the claim had actual knowledge of your claim within one year, the one-year deadline for submitting your claim does not apply.
Similarly, if the appropriate local executive, attorney, or insurer knew of your claim against a local political subdivision within six months of the incident, you can deliver your claim outside the six-month deadline.
Additionally, a child who suffers injury because of a government agency or employee is under a legal disability because of their minor age. In a case like this, time periods do not begin to run until the child turns 18 years old.
Contents of Your Claim
In order to satisfy the Virginia Tort Claims Act, you must put your claim in writing, and it must describe the nature of the claim itself. In other words, you must tell the appropriate entity or individual what happened that led to your injury, including the time, place, and who was involved.
Additionally, your claim under the Virginia Tort Claims Act is limited to $100,000 in damages. This damage limitation does not apply if your claim alleges intentional conduct or gross negligence.
Get Professional Assistance Suing the Government
If you have a claim against the state or a local government or employee based on negligence, then do not risk your recovery by trying to navigate the Virginia Tort Claims Act yourself. Speak to The Joel Bieber Firm, and our experienced attorneys will help ensure your claim is handled professionally through each stage of the process.