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Can sovereign immunity affect a slip-and-fall case?

When a Virginian is injured on another's property due to the negligence of the property owner, the victim may anticipate being able to recover financially from the negligent property owner via a premises liability lawsuit. However, when the property owner is the government, premises liability cases look very different.

Under a very old legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity, governments are largely immune to being sued. The doctrine has its origins in English laws which were meant to protect the monarch from lawsuits by ordinary citizens. It followed colonists to the New World and survived in state law after the American Revolution, although it has greatly changed over the years.

In Virginia law today, the application of sovereign immunity is complex, and whether a government agency or employee is protected by the doctrine will depend on the facts and circumstances of a particular case.

One of the most important factors in determining whether sovereign immunity applies to a premises liability case is what kind of government agency is involved. City and local governments may have less immunity than does the state. However, the Commonwealth of Virginia may be held liable in certain types of cases, under specific statutes.

Virginia Code Section 8.01-195.3, which went into effect about 30 years ago, allowed the state to be held liable under some circumstances. However, there are many exceptions.

If you have been injured on government property, whether in a slip-and-fall accident, due to inadequate security, or from another accident, it's a good idea to discuss your injury with an attorney who has experience in premises liability law. A lawyer can review the circumstances of your case and advise you on your legal options.

Source: Virginia Code Section 8.01-195.3, accessed April 14, 2016

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