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Understanding sovereign immunity

There are some who might argue that people are more hesitant to bring claims against government or municipal agencies because the thought of battling it out with such organizations may seem daunting. On the other hand, as the representative of such an agency, your experience may have shown you that people see state and local governments as easy targets. Many in your same situation often come to us here at Stockton, Barker & Mead, LLP questioning exactly what rights their employees have when bringing claims against their agencies. They often cite a legal principle that is widely misunderstood: sovereign immunity. 

The idea of sovereign immunity comes from Old English times, when making claims against the ruling body was not allowed. The same principle was applied with the establishment of democratic governments. However, the right to recognize sovereign immunity has been left to the individual states. According to the New York City Bar, New York has officially waived the right to sovereign immunity, meaning that people can bring claims against government and municipal agencies (including workers’ compensation claims). However, such claims must often be managed differently than a traditional workers’ compensation case. 

In many cases, your employee must first file a notice of claim that takes advantage of the state’s waiver of sovereign immunity. This must be done independent of their actual claim. This notice must be filed within the statute of limitations afforded for injury claims (which, according to the New York Court of Claims is 90 days). Your understanding this requirement will not only help you guide your employees in correctly filing claims, but also challenging those filed against your agency that may be unwarranted. 

More information on government employee workers’ compensation rights can be found throughout our site. 

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