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When Can You Sue the Government for Damages in a Personal Injury Claim?

July 3, 2024 | Personal Injury

Backpack lying on slippery paving slabs near falling man closeupWhen an individual suffers a personal injury, the path to compensation often involves claims against companies or private individuals. However, what happens when the responsible party is a government entity? In Missouri, the rules surrounding personal injury claims against the government are unique and more complex than typical personal injury cases.

Suing the government requires navigating a set of specific legal guidelines known as sovereign immunity, which traditionally protects government entities from many types of lawsuits. However, there are exceptions to these rules that allow victims to seek compensation under certain conditions. Whether you’re dealing with a slip-and-fall on government property, an injury caused by a public employee’s negligence, or other harm resulting from government action or inaction, the lawyers of Goza & Honnold can help you build a case and seek justice.

What Is Sovereign Immunity? 

Sovereign immunity is a legal principle derived from an old English Common Law notion that “the king can do no wrong,” which historically meant that one could not sue the government without its consent. While the context has evolved, this concept remains embedded in our civil laws. Sovereign immunity is still applicable to the federal government and most state governments, including Missouri.

Under this doctrine, suing the government for injuries is generally not allowed unless specific state laws provide exceptions. Sovereign immunity persists for two primary reasons: to prevent an overwhelming number of lawsuits that could hinder the effective functioning of public services and to ensure that government employees can perform their duties without fear of constant litigation.

Missouri’s Sovereign Immunity Statute 

Missouri Revised Statute §537.600 outlines the state’s approach to sovereign immunity, which generally shields Missouri, its public entities, and employees from liability in civil wrongs or torts, including personal injury claims. Essentially, under normal circumstances, one cannot pursue damages against the state or its entities in a personal injury lawsuit.

However, the statute does provide two primary exceptions to this rule:

  • Harm caused by the negligence of public employees while operating motor vehicles, such as public buses or snow plows.
  • Injuries occurring due to dangerous conditions on public property if:
    • The hazardous condition was present at the time of the injury.
    • The condition posed a reasonably foreseeable risk of harm.
    • The condition resulted from a public employee’s negligence, or the government was aware of the condition and had adequate time to address it.

Additionally, “public property” under this statute includes state highways and roads. The government can be held liable for injuries resulting from the negligent or hazardous design of these roads, provided the design and construction occurred after September 12, 1977.

Types of Accidents the Government Can Be Liable For 

You may file a personal injury claim against the government in certain types of circumstances, including the following: 

City Vehicle Accidents

If a city-operated vehicle, such as a bus or garbage truck, causes an accident due to negligence, or if you are hit by a city employee’s car while the employee is on duty, you have the right to file a claim against the city just as you would against a private individual who caused an injury.


Public areas in Missouri, such as city parks, municipal buildings, or sidewalks, must be kept in safe condition. If they are in an unsafe condition, then and someone is injured as a result, the city may be found responsible. For example, if a poorly maintained sidewalk in front of a city building leads to a trip and fall injury, the city may face liability. The city might also be held accountable for less obvious hazards, like broken stairs in a public library that results in an injury.

Injuries in City Recreational Facilities

There is a potential for claims against the city if someone is injured in a city-run facility like a swimming pool or playground due to inadequate maintenance or supervision.

Injuries from Poor Road Designs or Malfunctioning Traffic Signals

The government may also be liable for car accidents caused by non-employee-related issues such as malfunctioning traffic signals or poor road designs. If the city knew about a malfunctioning traffic light or a hazardous road condition and did not take action to correct it, it could face liability for any resulting accidents.

Speak with the lawyers of Goza & Honnold as soon as possible if you have suffered injuries due to government negligence. 

Speak With the Personal Injury Lawyers of Goza & Honnold 

If you’ve been injured due to government negligence, whether from a city-operated vehicle accident, a slip-and-fall on public property, or a malfunctioning traffic signal, you may feel intimidated by the prospect of taking on a government entity. However, you don’t have to face this challenge alone. The lawyers of Goza & Honnold provide the skilled guidance and representation you need to navigate the legal process of suing the government. We ensure your rights are protected and fight diligently to secure compensation. 

Contact one of our personal injury lawyers today to discuss your case at (913) 451-3433 or fill out a contact form