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Government Immunity Wrongful Death Claims Wrongful Death

Governmental Immunity for Wrongful DeathWhat is governmental immunity?

Generally, governmental immunity means that a state or local government is not liable for damages from a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. Regarding liability of local government agencies, Ohio law states the following:

"...Except as provided in division (B) of this section, a political subdivision is not liable in damages in a civil action for injury, death or loss to person or property allegedly caused by any act or omission of the political subdivision or an employee of the political subdivision in connection with a governmental or proprietary function" (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Sec. 2744.02.A.1). 

This immunity can take many different defenses as a variety of actions count as "governmental or proprietary function”:

  • Exercising policy making or planning powers;
  • Exercising the powers of office; and
  • Using judgment in handling materials.

Many different agencies are considered government agencies for the purposes of this law:

  • Public schools;
  • Libraries;
  • The Department of Transportation;
  • The judicial and legislative branches; and
  • The water departments.

When are government actors not immune in wrongful death cases?

Division (B) in the law cited above provides scenarios under which a government agency might be liable.  Except for police, firefighters and ambulances, government agencies can be liable for motor vehicle accidents. If a government employee causes a fatal motor vehicle accident, surviving family may have cause for action against the government.

If a state agency fails to keep public roads in good repair, and the disrepair leads to a death, the family can sue the government for ill-maintained roads.  Government units are responsible for the condition of their buildings as well.

Governments may also be responsible for employee negligence in performing proprietary functions of political subdivisions; this may include:

  • Operation of a hospital;
  • Public stadium; and
  • Civic center.

If a government actor displays wanton or willful misconduct, they can be held liable for their actions. This conduct goes beyond the standard of negligence. For example, a police officer who is drunk on the job and kills someone in an accident displays wanton misconduct.

Wrongful Death Overview

Wrongful death lawsuits are like personal injury lawsuits.  To win the claim, a plaintiff must show:

  • A duty of care between the defendant and decedent;
  • The defendant breached that duty;
  • The breach caused the decedent's death; and
  • Claimants suffered damages.

The surviving family must bring a wrongful death action within two years after the cause of action that led to the death. The complaint filed with the political subdivision must include a demand for judgment for damages to which a judge or jury find the complainant is entitled however, the complaint should not specify the monetary amount of damages being sought.

At Ryan, LLP, we do everything we can to make sure a government unit is held responsible if its conduct or that of an employee causes the death of your loved one. Contact our office at 877-864-9495 to set up an appointment to speak with a lawyer about your claim.

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