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Premises liability claims against the government

The legal theory of premises liability holds that property owners have a duty to keep their premises reasonably free from hazardous conditions. When they breach that duty, and someone is injured as a result, the owner can be held liable for the injured person's damages.

Premises liability often comes up in the context of grocery stores or restaurants, in cases where a customer has slipped and fallen on a spill or other hazardous condition that the owner failed to remedy. These private property cases are tricky enough, but premises liability cases face further complications when the property owner is an agency of the federal, state or local government.

Compared to people who have been hurt on private property, a person who has been injured in a slip-and-fall accident on government-owned property faces greater legal and practical hurdles. One of the biggest is yet another legal theory known as sovereign immunity.

This theory has its origins in British law from before American independence and limits citizens' ability to file suit against the government. At one time, citizens simply could not sue the federal government for personal injury unless Congress provided a specific law allowing such an action. The Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, significantly loosened this restriction, but claims against the federal government must follow very different procedures than claims against private property owners.

Missouri can claim sovereign immunity in certain cases as well. Plaintiffs must follow specific procedures in order to make their claims, and the state puts limits on the dollar amounts they can claim.

People who have been injured on another person's property should talk to an attorney as soon as they can to learn about their options. If the property belongs to the federal, state or local government, they should ask about how sovereign immunity may affect their claims.

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