Governmental entities can be held liable in certain instances, but sometimes are protected from liability by a state’s Tort Claims Act. In cases where there someone is acting in their official capacity as an employee of the state or federal government, and they cause injury to someone, the government agency can potentially be held liable for the injury caused.
Sometimes, however, government entities have immunity under any one type of statutory immunity. There are many different types of immunity that a governmental entity could claim. In the case of individuals (most commonly law enforcement officers), they will have qualified immunity.
Under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, governmental entities have discretionary functions, where they cannot be held liable if the government can decide whether or not they should notify citizens of a particular danger. If something is discretionary, the government can decide whether or not, or when, to inform people of any kind of danger. When does this governmental defense fail?
The Case: State of Indiana v. Cristobal Alvarez
A recent Indiana appellate court case has stated that when there is no policy decision connected with the argued discretionary situation, then there is no discretionary immunity under a state’s tort claims act, or the Federal Tort Claims Act.
In this case, the residents in an apartment complex in East Chicago in Northwestern Indiana were notified that there were high levels of lead in the water by the EPA, and a couple days later the mayor of East Chicago sent a letter to the residents of that apartment and told them to find a new place to live as soon as possible.
Over 300 residents of the apartment complex then filed suit against a number of governmental entities, most of them located in Indiana. The state and the governmental entities argued that the decision of how and when to inform these people of the lead concentration in the water in their apartment complex was a discretionary decision, meaning that it was up to the state and government as to how and when they would inform these people.
The state also argued that these residents knew or should have known that they needed to move, based on the flyer sent by the EPA. However, many residents testified that they did not realize how serious the issue was until they received notice from the mayor that they needed to find new residences.
The appellate court here used several Indiana Appellate Court cases and a few 7th Circuit cases to show that this argument that because this function was discretionary, that the governmental entities should be immune was incorrect. Discretionary functions do not lead to governmental or state immunity.
What Does This Case Mean?
This case is important because it lays out when a state or federal entity can claim statutory immunity, and when it cannot. In a civil case, this can be very important because it can determine when someone can be compensated for any injuries and when they cannot be compensated for any injuries.
Have You Suffered Injury at the Hands of a State or Government Entity?
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