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Government Immunity in Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Posted on August 15, 2018 in Firm News

A death caused by another party’s negligence may give rise to a wrongful death claim. As the name implies, these types of personal injury claims exist to provide surviving members of a family financial recourse for another party’s wrongful actions. However, some exceptions to wrongful death laws exist – one of the biggest involves government immunity. If your loved one lost his or her life at the hands of the government, learn how it may affect your claim and seek advice from your wrongful death attorney.

Suits Against the Government

In general, claims against municipal, state, and federal entities are notoriously complex. For example, suits generally have a shorter statute of limitations, and victims may encounter caps on non-economic damages. In some cases, victims may be unable to file a claim against the government entirely. This applies when a government entity has immunity from liability.

Claims against the federal government fall under the purview of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Municipal and state claims, on the other hand, generally fall under Chapter 41 of the Nevada Annotated Code.

When Are Government Entities Immune From Liability?

Under both state and federal statutes, the government may be immune from liability in a wrongful death when one of the following applies:

  • The death was a result of an execution or enforcement of a court order
  • A death occurred as a result of civil disobedience (i.e. failure to provide police supervision)
  • A death resulted from a natural, temporary dangerous condition on an area walkway or roadway (i.e. wet roads)
  • A death occurred as the result of natural conditions on a municipal property

On the other hand, instances exist in which a surviving family can pursue damages against a municipal entity. These apply when a government employee or agent causes a death within the scope of his or her employment. Other examples that might give rise to a wrongful death claim against the government include:

  • Failing to adequately maintain or fix dangerous roads
  • Misconduct or negligence of a government employee on the grounds of a municipal building

Under the FTCA, federal government entities enjoy immunity from punitive damages. In other words, even if a government employee causes a death, the surviving family members may only collect economic damages from the entity that committed negligence. Examples of economic damages include:

  • The costs associated with the final illness or injury (i.e. medical bills, surgery, attempted rehabilitation costs)
  • Expenses related to the funeral and burial
  • Projected loss in income, if the decedent was a wage earner in the household
  • Any other tangible or calculable loss associated with the wrongful death

Examples of punitive damages that a family may NOT collect include:

  • Emotional pain and mental anguish
  • Loss in partnership, guidance, or consortium

Filing a Claim Against a Municipal Entity in Nevada

The laws of the state of Nevada dictate certain procedures for filing any tort action against a municipal entity. For example, in order to begin the process, the surviving member of a decedent must file and sign a written notice of claim to the Nevada Board of Examiners. This document must contain several key pieces of information, such as:

  • The amount of damages a party seeks
  • How the wrongful death occurred
  • Why the surviving family member believes that a government agency is responsible for the damages
  • Copies of medical reports from physicians who attempted to treat the decedent, if applicable

This notice of claim goes to the Attorney General’s office, which may choose to approve or deny it. If the government denies liability for a death, the surviving members have the option of filing a wrongful death claim, assuming one of the criteria outlined above apply.

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