Yes. When it comes to car accidents, it often matters whether you were struck by a state employee. However, there are many factors to consider in these types of crashes, such as whether the employee was on the job at the time of the wreck, as well as who owns the vehicle.
In most situations, the state is immune from lawsuit. This is the concept of “sovereign immunity.” But both New Hampshire and Vermont have made exceptions for situations like car accidents when a state employee is negligent. The legal team at Sabbeth Law can help you navigate the maze of bringing a claim, so please contact one of our New Hampshire or Vermont car accident lawyers today.
Was the Employee Driving for Work?
Generally, an employer is responsible for any accidents caused by an employee while working. This principle also applies to the government, just as it would for a private employer.
Consider the following example. Michael works for the state’s Department of Transportation, and he hits Susan while driving out to a job site. Because he was driving for his job, Susan can make a claim with the government agency that employs him.
Now consider a counterexample: Michael was driving to visit his grandmother on a Saturday afternoon when he struck Susan. In this example, he was not driving for his job at the time of the accident. He is no different than any other citizen involved in a crash, so the person he hits cannot bring a claim against his employer.
A key consideration is whether the state employee must travel for work. For example, someone might sit behind a desk all day but hit someone while running to the post office during their lunch break. Because they are running a personal errand, their victim probably can’t sue the state. Instead, they need to be traveling because their employer requires it.
Generally, driving to work in the morning and home in the evening is not travel required by the job. But everything depends on the specific facts of your case.
Who Owns the Vehicle?
In some situations, a state employee might get a state vehicle to use, even for personal reasons. The vehicle might crash because it is defective or because it has not received proper maintenance. An unfortunate number of vehicles out on the road are not serviced property and are very old and dangerous to drive.
If the state owns the vehicle, then the state might be responsible for an accident—even if you were hit by an employee who was driving during off-work hours. The reason is fairly simple: the state must keep its property in reasonably safe condition.
Does the Employee Work for a Municipality or County?
You might not be 100% sure who the defendant works for. Different laws apply depending on whether the government employee works for the state or for a municipality. A seasoned car accident attorney can investigate to uncover this information.
Injured Victims Must File a Claim with the Agency First
Unfortunately, victims cannot run into court and file a lawsuit. Many states create special procedures that apply to any claim brought against them, and all victims must follow these rules to the letter. Any failure can result in the dismissal of a claim.
For example, N.H. Rev. Stat. § 541-B:11 requires that accident victims file a claim in writing with the appropriate agency before they file a lawsuit for an accident. This written claim gives the agency notice of the crash and triggers an investigation. The agency can then determine whether its employee is responsible for the accident and whether the agency wants to settle the claim with the victims.
There are Limits on Compensation a Victim Can Receive
The state does not want to pay out too much money, so there is a ceiling to our client’s financial recovery. For example, Vermont will limit the maximum amount in most cases to $500,000 to one person and $2,000,000 to all victims of one accident. Any more than this usually requires special permission from the legislature.
Ideally, accident victims should receive full compensation for all their financial and non-financial losses. But this might be impossible in catastrophic accidents when struck by a state employee.
Contact a Seasoned Car Accident Lawyer Today
Sabbeth Law is a go-to law firm for accident victims in New Hampshire and Vermont. Car accident claims are often more complicated than people imagine, and this is never truer than when a state employee strikes you. Rather than go it alone, contact one of our lawyers to schedule a free consultation.