As we have covered in the various articles on this website, there are numerous ways in which a claim can be asserted after a government agency or employee causes an injury. However, given the “sovereign immunity” statutes that protect the Federal and State governments, along with their various agencies and employees, it can be confusing to determine where, and what type, of claim may be filed after you have been injured.
There are several overarching principles that must be understood when filing a civil rights claim. First, we have two separate court systems, Federal Courts and State Courts. Per the 11th Amendment, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its agencies can generally only be sued in State Court. However, Commonwealth employees may be sued in Federal Court in certain circumstances.
This is because claims may arise under federal or state law. When a claim arises under state law, the claim must generally be filed in state court, so long as all the parties live in one state. However, when a claim involves a violation of federal law, the case may be filed in federal court. Many civil rights cases, including those on behalf of disabled persons and prisoners, arise under the United States Constitution or Federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act. Therefore, these types of cases are generally brought in federal court.
Lawsuits against the government for violations of a person’s rights under the United States Constitution are sometimes referred to as “Section 1983 actions.” This is because the United States Constitution does not include any right to be compensated by the government for injures which a person suffers when the government violates their rights. Therefore, Congress passed a statute, known as the Civil Rights Act, allowing for people to be compensated for constitutional violations. For more information on Section 1983 actions, please see our article here.
However, there are some types of claims which arise under state law only. Claims like negligence, medical professional negligence, battery, assault, and false imprisonment are all “state law” claims. These are known as “torts.” When the Commonwealth or its employees commit a tort, they are protected by sovereign immunity unless the tort falls into one of the nine statutory exceptions which allow certain claims. For more information on Pennsylvania’s Sovereign Immunity Act, please see our article here.
Suing the government is incredibly complex, and determining the proper claim and court to file in is only the first issue that must be resolved to be compensated for an injury. If you or someone you know has been injured by the government or its employees, please immediately contact the Mizner Law Firm at email@example.com or 814-454-3889 to learn how we may be able to help you.