Suing the government for negligence and personal injury

 In Louisiana Car Wrecks

The issue of governmental immunity arises frequently in personal injury cases. It takes an experienced legal team like Joseph Joy and Associates to navigate such a complex issue. As a general rule, it can be difficult to sue the federal government and even more challenging as part of a personal injury and tort lawsuit because of governmental immunity.

The hundreds of thousands of residents and business owners whose property and lives were damaged by the failure of the levees in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were denied an opportunity to hold the Corps of Engineers responsible due to the shield of governmental immunity. Their lawsuit was dismissed.

Attempting to pierce the government’s immunity is always hotly contested  but the United States Supreme Court may shed some light soon.  The Court recently heard arguments in a case filed by a seriously injured boater who struck a power line being installed by a government contractor. The case is based on a fact scenario that could very well have happened here in the Sportsman’s Paradise so we are watching it closely at Joseph Joy and Associates.

For example, let’s say the Corps of Engineers hired a contractor to bury a power line in the Atchafalaya Basin and the agency decided it wanted to undertake this hazardous work around the time of a fishing tournament, when there is heavy boating traffic in the Basin and surrounding bayous. Let’s further hypothesize that a fishing boat comes in contact with the power line during this project resulting in the death of one boater and  causing serious personal injuries to the other. Would the victims have a cause of action against the Corps of Engineers? Could the contractor hired by the government be held liable?

That is very close to a real-life scenario under consideration now by the Supreme Court in Thacker vs Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).  On July 30, 2013, while Gary Thacker and his friend Anthony Szozda were participating in a local fishing tournament, TVA was attempting to raise a downed power line that was partially submerged in the river. The power line, which crossed the river, had become lax earlier in the day when a pulling cable failed during a conductor-replacement project. At the same moment that TVA began lifting the conductor out of the water, the fishing partners’ boat passed through the area at a high rate of speed, and the conductor struck both Thacker and Szozda. As a result, according to the complaint, Thacker suffered serious physical injuries, his wife suffered loss-of-consortium damages, and Szozda was killed instantly.  The 11th Circuit refused to lift the government’s immunity and the private contractor was deemed not liable.

Congress grants immunity to government agencies and their contractors to protect agencies from undue interference and scrutiny of governmental work. But in some very specific cases the immunity can be lifted.  During oral arguments, Justice Sonia Sotomayor framed the issue succinctly, acknowledging that some core government functions were indeed performed by the TVA in its construction of a dam but how far does that immunity go? In this case, the TVA’s contractor was engaged in seemingly commercial work and, the plaintiffs argued, its negligence resulted in significant injuries and a fatality.

No one has a crystal ball to accurately predict how the Court will rule.  You can read the transcript of the oral arguments here.  The personal injury legal team at Joseph Joy and Associates will be watching for the Court’s ruling in coming months.

Loss of life and personal injury is the ultimate price to pay for vehicular accidents. At Joseph Joy and Associates, our personal injury attorneys have recovered millions for clients and their families who have suffered damages due to someone else’s negligence. If you have the unfortunate experience of being seriously injured by a driver who was texting just before a collision, or if you were in an accident involving a negligently operated car, truck or big rig, give us a call: 337-232-8123 or visit us at 900 S. College Rd., Ste. 204, Lafayette, LA.

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