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Understanding Government Immunity

If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by the negligence of another person, you have the right to bring a claim for damages caused by such negligent person. This is no different if the negligent person is a state employee driving a vehicle owned by the State. Connecticut General Statute § 52-556 authorizes a claim against the State of Connecticut for such cause of action. This is known as a waiver of the State’s sovereign immunity to suit by private citizens.

Sovereign immunity is governmental immunity from suit afforded through the Eleventh Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. There are, however, a few exceptions, two of which are:

  • Consent. The state may consent to suit through statute (example § 52-556 above) or by consent of the Claims Commissioner. See C.G.S. §§ 4-141 through 4-165).
  • Violation of state or federal constitution. States may be sued pursuant to federal laws adopted under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. For example, if a state employee violates your state or federal constitutional rights, he or she is not entitled to sovereign immunity.

There are other exceptions, such as a federal suit against a state and bankruptcy, but these exceptions are beyond the scope of this article.

State employees may not be sued in their official capacity for negligent acts performed within the scope of employment. Immunity of State officers and employees from personal liability. Such officer or employee would be entitled to the sovereign immunity defense because bringing a claim against a state employee is the same as bringing a claim against the State itself.

State employees, however, may be sued in their individual capacity for illegal actions or intentional torts, as long as the State is not a defendant in the action.

Other governmental immunities that are sure to arise include:

  • Qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). For qualified immunity to be granted, the state employee would need to show that he or she had no knowledge that said acts were illegal and/or unconstitutional nor did said acts clearly violate the plaintiff’s rights at the time they were committed.
  • Absolute immunity confers total immunity from criminal prosecution and lawsuits so long as the State official or employee are acting within the scope of his or her duties. Absolute immunity contrasts with qualified immunity in that it applies to specific employees, i.e., judge, legislator, prosecutor, parole board member or other similar function. The premise is that they cannot be sued for doing their job.

Contact the Knowledgeable Government Immunity Attorneys at The APEX Law Firm

Facing a legal battle with the United States Government or the State of Connecticut can be a scary proposition.  If you have been injured by a government employee and have questions about how to recover for your loss, call the Apex Law Firm to schedule a free, no obligation consultation and evaluation of your claim. Our experienced Government Immunity Attorneys are ready to help protect your rights.  With locations in Hartford County and New Haven County, The APEX Law Firm has successfully represented clients across the state of Connecticut. Contact our Hartford County office at (860) 900-0900 or use our online form.