Suing Uncle Sam – Can You Sue the Government for a Personal Injury?

Suing Uncle Sam – Can You Sue the Government for a Personal Injury?

Just like a private citizen, the government has a responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of its possessions, and just like a private citizen, the government can sometimes fall short of these expectations. From potholes to park equipment, the potential for injury is everywhere. So, the question is, can you sue the government for a personal injury? The short answer is yes – but there are different avenues for filing a claim against a government entity. 

If your injury involves government at the city or county level, you can file a claim in a similar manner to the way you would file a claim against a private citizen. However, timing restrictions may differ. In Illinois, for example, you only have one year to file versus the standard two years that is the typical timeframe to file against a non-government defendant.

If your claim is at the state level, there are different ways to proceed depending on which side of the river you reside.

In Illinois, the state has established the Illinois Court of Claims and corresponding Court of Claims Act to oversee these types of cases.

In Iowa, however, one must file a claim with the state attorney general’s office first. If the issue is not resolved here, one can then file in district court.

Again, different time limits come into play.

In Illinois, your claim against the state can be valid for two years but you must file your claim within the first year.

In Iowa, you have two years to file your claim and this timeframe could be extended up to an additional six months from the time it takes the attorney general to respond.  If your suit involves a state college or state hospital, it would follow this process.

If your claim is at the federal level, it falls under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Here, the United States itself is the defendant. According to, under this act, “the federal government acts as a self-insurer, and recognizes liability for the negligent or wrongful acts or omissions of its employees acting within the scope of their official duties.” 

Any citizen is entitled to pursue one of these avenues in the event of an injury on government property but beware – there are special immunities in many states (including Iowa and Illinois) that apply to government agencies which makes suing them more complicated. This is perhaps the most important distinction between suing the government and suing someone in the private sector. One such immunity involves the exercising of a discretionary function. 

Let’s say you and perhaps several others have had an accident at an intersection on a county road, and you are convinced that there should be a stop sign erected for the safety of all. The decision to place a new stop sign at this intersection is a discretionary one to be made by a government authority at a cost, and therefore, the absence of this stop sign is not one for which the government can be held liable. Conversely, if there was a stop sign at an intersection and it was knocked down and not repaired in a reasonable timeframe, you could have a case against the government if this issue caused you to have an accident that resulted in an injury. That’s because if the government fails to maintain an existing structure, there is an argument for liability.

Another such immunity in place is that of recreational use immunity. If you are injured while playing at a public park, provided the injury wasn’t due to a failure to maintain the grounds or equipment, you have no case.

Because of the many procedural requirements, differing time limitations and immunities involved in suing the government, there are plenty of pitfalls when trying to represent your own interests. That’s why you need an experienced attorney on your side. VanDerGinst Law, P.C. has decades of experience and a successful track record with these types of complicated lawsuits.

If you or a loved one think you may have a case against a government entity, contact VanDerGinst Law today. We have knowledgeable and experienced attorneys who can help guide you through the complexities of your case and help you obtain the financial compensation you deserve. The consultation is free and there is never a fee unless we win. Call VanDerGinst Law at 800-797-5391. The law is tough, being injured is tougher. We’ll make it easier for you.


The information contained on this website is presented by VanDerGinst Law P.C. It is not intended nor should it be construed as professional legal advice. The information is general in nature about the Firm, the scope of services we offer, and our community outreach, it is not legal advice. Please contact us by phone, email, mail, or via this website for inquiries. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please contact a personal injury attorney for a consultation regarding your situation. This website is not intended to solicit clients outside the State of Iowa and/or the State of Illinois.