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Fighting City Hall: Lawsuits Against the Government in Illinois

Lawsuits in Illinois are always complicated. Success requires a detailed knowledge of statutes, past court decisions, rules of procedure, rules of evidence, and more. But that’s just the beginning of the issues that confront individuals who wish to sue the government for personal injuries that it has caused.

That’s because in Illinois, as elsewhere, a series of special rules apply to lawsuits against the government. This article summarizes some of the most important ways in which such lawsuits differ from standard personal-injury lawsuits in the state.

1. You Can’t Always Sue the Government

Centuries ago in England, the principle that the King can do no wrong led to the development of the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity. Under that doctrine, the government cannot be sued unless it consents to suit. In other words, if you are injured by the negligence of a government employee, sovereign immunity means you can’t sue the government to recover.

For some inexplicable reason, that monarchical idea made its way into U.S. law, including the common law of Illinois.

The Illinois Constitution of 1970 abolished the doctrine of sovereign immunity in Illinois, but left open a significant loophole: The General Assembly could reinstate immunity through legislation. Not surprisingly, the General Assembly has done so by enacting laws like the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (or “Tort Immunity Act,” for short).

The Tort Immunity Act includes a laundry list of activities as to which a local government or local governmental body (e.g., a school district or park district) is immune from lawsuits. Many of these have little to do with personal injury, but some can make it more difficult for a plaintiff to recover for an injury.

2. You Have Less Time to Sue

We’ve discussed statutes of limitations in Illinois personal injury lawsuits before. These are time limits on a person’s right to sue. In lawsuits not involving the government, a person generally has two years after being injured to file a lawsuit for compensation. But a different rule applies for lawsuits against the government, as opposed to lawsuits against businesses or individuals.

For lawsuits against a local government under the Tort Immunity Act, the statute of limitations is generally just one year. However, a two-year statute of limitations (and four-year statute of repose) applies to claims against a local government arising out of patient care.

Lawsuits against the state itself (including, e.g., state universities) follow still another rule. There, the injured person has one year to either file a lawsuit or file a notice of his or her claim with the Illinois Attorney General and the clerk of the Court of Claims. If a notice is filed within that one-year period, then the person generally has two years from the date of injury to sue.

3. The Amount of Damages Is Limited

No government in Illinois, state or local, is subject to punitive damages. In addition, in personal injury lawsuits against the state, damages of any kind are generally limited to $100,000 (except in certain cases involving state employees driving state vehicles). In other words, when you sue the government, you may not be able to recover as much as you could in a lawsuit against a private person.

Suing the Government is Complicated

These are not the only special rules that those who wish to sue the government in Illinois must deal with. But as you can see, lawsuits against the government generally involve shortened time-frames, heightened notice requirements, and more complicated liability rules than lawsuits against private parties.

If you have been injured by an Illinois government employee or while on government property, contact the lawyers of Costa Ivone today for a free initial consultation and help preparing your claim quickly.

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