Can I Sue a City?

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Can I Sue a City?

If a private party causes someone an injury, they may be liable. Similarly, if a city or municipality causes an injury, they may also be liable. However, due to the fact that a city has such a large amount of responsibility for the people living in it and control over the essential functions of daily life, the potential for lawsuits would be enormous without some limitations.

When Can a City Be Sued?

This will vary from state to state. However, there are a few concepts that every state court will apply when determining liability.

The reasoning behind this distinction is that we generally do not want government officials to be apprehensive about making difficult decisions due to the possibility of a lawsuit. If, for example, a police officer is speeding and blows through a pedestrian crosswalk, striking a person crossing the street, they will likely be liable. However, if you are driving a set of priceless ice sculptures and an officer pulls you over suspecting possession of drugs, causing these to melt, you will likely not be able to sue them because the officer, while possibly negligent, used his discretion in the context of a unique, difficult situation.

Governmental v. Proprietary Functions – In addition to ministerial and discretionary functions, many states distinguish between "governmental" and "proprietary" functions. This, however, is a little more straightforward. Governmental functions are areas where only a governmental body typically acts, where as proprietary functions are areas where a private party can also act. These distinctions are highly state specific.

Who Can Act on Behalf of a City?

This will also be highly dependent on the state and the circumstances. However, as a general matter, the following will typically be considered employees of the city:

What Can a City Be Sued For?

Should I Seek Legal Advice?

As you can tell, this area of law is unique and extremely complicated. If you believe the city or one of their employees has harmed you, you should contact a local attorney. An experienced lawyer will be able to advise you of your legal rights and potential for a lawsuit.

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Last Modified: 04-08-2014 12:14 PM PDT

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