Sovereign Immunity Definition

Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that bars individuals and organizations from filing a civil suit or pursuing criminal charges against the government. We borrowed this concept from English law, which is why you may sometimes hear this concept called “crown immunity.”

Who has sovereign immunity?

In the United States, sovereign immunity applies to the federal government, all federal agencies, the governments of all 50 states, and tribal governments. Many states, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, have laws that extend the protections of sovereign immunity to county and city governments, as well.

In Pennsylvania, the Sovereign Immunity Act prevents people from filing suit against the Commonwealth, while the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act protects local municipalities from legal action.

Are there exceptions to sovereign immunity?

Most areas recognize that there is a need for exceptions to sovereign immunity. Lawmakers waive sovereign immunity in specific circumstances by adding exceptions to these laws. The Pennsylvania Sovereign Immunity Act outlines nine exceptions to sovereign immunity:

  • Car accidents, when government employees driving government vehicles are at fault;
  • Medical malpractice committed in a state-run facility;
  • Care, custody, or control of personal property held by government employees;
  • Dangerous conditions on highways or other state-owned property;
  • Damages from potholes and sinkholes;
  • Care, custody, or control of animals by a government agency;
  • Liquor store sales by employees of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board;
  • Wrongful acts committed by members of the National Guard; and
  • Dangers related to toxoids and vaccines.

The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act also provides exceptions to the sovereign immunity provided to local municipalities. These are similar to the exceptions that apply to the entire Commonwealth, but vary in some ways. They include:

  • Car accidents caused by city employees while driving government vehicles;
  • Care, custody, or control of personal property held by government employees;
  • Care, custody, or control of real property held by a local agency;
  • Dangerous conditions arising from trees, traffic control devices, and street lighting;
  • Dangerous conditions caused by utility service facilities;
  • Dangerous conditions on city streets;
  • Damages caused by injuries on poorly maintained sidewalks; and
  • Care, custody, or control of animals by a municipal agency.

These exceptions often allow us to file a claim against a government agency if you suffered a personal injury because of an employee’s negligent actions. If a city bus driver, for example, failed to yield the right of way to you as you crossed the street in a crosswalk, we can file a claim.  Thanks to these exceptions, we can hold the city liable for your medical bills, lost wages, and other damages. Slip and fall cases and other premises liability claims are also possible because of these caveats to the sovereign immunity statutes.

Contact Berger and Green Today

If you have questions about the sovereign immunity laws that might apply in your Pittsburgh case, let Berger and Green help. Call us at 412-661-1400 today to schedule your free case evaluation with one of our personal injury attorneys.