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Can the government be liable for injuries on public property?


Sometimes the liability for an injury is a black-and-white matter. When an aggressive dog, whose owner failed to use a leash, bites you, the owner is accountable. Sometimes liability is not quite so easy to identify, though, as when you sustain an injury on public property—and it may not be the result of a single person’s negligence.

In such circumstances, you might wonder whether you can hold local, state or federal government legally accountable for your injuries. There are certainly cases in which plaintiffs have attempted to hold government entities accountable for injuries, but the answer to this question depends on a few factors.

Who owns the property

The first thing you should research is who owns the property where your injury happened. The term “public property” can refer to a place that is not residential, or it might more specifically indicate the place’s association with a government entity. If the latter is the case, confirm whether a government entity owns and manages the premises.

What caused your injury

If you have confirmed that the premises are, in fact, under the ownership of a branch of the government, you next need to consider what the cause of your injury was. If your own negligence was a determining factor, it is less likely that you can hold a government liable. If the injury is the result of unsafe conditions or an employee’s negligence, you might have a case for liability.

Whether hazard was planned

Yet another important factor to consider is whether the hazard that caused your injury was an intentional aspect of the premises’ design. Last year, a bill was introduced attempting to clarify cloudy liability. HB 2170 aimed to make property owners equally liable as contractors in cases where design flaws trigger a lawsuit. It is still often unclear whether the government owners of a property or its contractors are legally liable for injury.