Our legal system and country are founded (in part) on the principle that no one is above the law.
This means that, in theory, if someone acting on behalf of the government injuries you then you should have a right to take the government actor to court. However, in reality, that can be a trickier process. This post takes a high-level overview of how that can be done in Nebraska.
The old system in England, before we fought for our independence, was based in part on the theory that the king can do no harm. As a result, this principle of “sovereign immunity” was imbedded into our legal system from the beginning and is still an important principle of our law. One way to think about it is that since the government makes the rules then nothing it does can actually break the rules (because it could theoretically change the rules to fit its own conduct). Under this principle, you can only sue the government if the government explicitly lets you do so.
Statutes Allow Some Lawsuits:
To bring the principle of sovereign immunity in line with the principle that no one is above the law, the government (federal, state, and local governments) have enacted laws which explicitly provide ways in which a person can bring a suit against a government entity under certain circumstances. In Nebraska, there is one set of rules for if you are trying to sue the State of Nebraska itself, and another set of rules if you are suing a “political subdivision” of the State of Nebraska.
When suing a political subdivision, there are some important considerations which are different than what applies to other (non-government) entities. The rules regarding suits against a political subdivision of Nebraska are codified in the Nebraska Political Subdivision Tort Claim Act, Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-901 to 13-928.
A “political subdivision” is specifically defined in the statute. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 13-903(1). That definition of a political subdivision includes City governments, state or city owned utilities, or any other unit of local governments.
One important part to consider before rushing to bring a suit against a political subdivision is whether the suit is actually allowed. Although there is a general process for bringing the suit, there are still certain actions of the government, defined in statute, where the political subdivision is exempt for a lawsuit. Those exemptions are defined in Neb. Rev. Stat. § 13-910, but include such actions as when the government entity is executing a law, acting within its discretion, conditions caused by nature, etc. Before filing suit, it is important to make sure your cause of action does not fit under any of those exemptions, or else your suit may be over before it ever begins.
Statute of Limitations:
The statute of limitations for suing the government is considerably shorter than for lawsuits against a non-government entity. While you may be able to bring a lawsuit against a private individual or entity up to four years in some cases after the incident occurs, the statute of limitations for a lawsuit against a political subdivision in Nebraska is only one (1) year from when it occurred. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 13-919(1). As a result, if you think you might have a lawsuit it is important to consider very early on whether the suit might be against a political subdivision, so you do not lose the ability to bring the suit.
Claim Notification Requirements:
When suing a government entity, you cannot simply bring a lawsuit against them and haul them into court. The statutes indicate that you have to give the government entity a chance to make it right before filing the official lawsuit. Along those lines, you must provide official written notice to the appropriate person within the government entity, and then wait up to six (6) months before filing suit. Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-905, 13-906.
If the government entity officially “denies” your claim, then you can file suit immediately upon receiving the rejection. Otherwise, you have to wait the full six months to see if the entity will make a decision. If no decision regarding your claim is made in that time, then you can file your lawsuit.
It is important to note that there are very specific requirements regarding what must be included in your written notice to the government entity and the notice must be addressed to the correct person(s). If done improperly, it could prevent your ability to sue.
There are many intricacies involved with suing a government entity in the state of Nebraska. Because of that, when brining a suit against a government entity it is important to speak with a knowledgeable attorney early on in your case. That way, they can help evaluate whether it is even possible to bring the suit. An experienced attorney can help you with the various hoops that must be jumped through and ensure that deadlines are not missed.
If you think you might have a lawsuit against a government entity, please contact the experienced trial attorneys at Goosmann Law Firm, PLC, in our Omaha, Sioux City, or Sioux Falls offices today.