Can I Sue the State of Oregon for Personal Injuries?

For American citizens, the interaction between personal rights and government involvement in our lives has always been a delicate balancing act. However, most would agree that state and federal governments play important roles in society. For example, in Oregon, the state licenses and polices professionals, provides public education, issues rules and regulations to protect workers, provides protection through law enforcement, and maintains a court system, just to name a few important functions.

But sometimes, it is easy to overlook all the workers employed by the state of Oregon and the ways in which their jobs can affect our daily lives. These are hard-working people, but they can make mistakes like everyone else. State employees drive cars and trucks and sometimes cause crashes that result in personal injuries or death. Healthcare workers sometimes act negligently and commit medical malpractice. Employees operating physical facilities can make mistakes that cause members of the public to slip and fall.

These and other situations can raise the question addressed by this article - can a victim sue the state of Oregon for personal injuries?

Concept and Origins of Sovereign Immunity

Whether or not a governmental entity can be sued, or under what conditions a governmental entity can be sued, is governed by a doctrine called “sovereign immunity.” The doctrine as it exists in American law is widely considered to have originated in England, where it was once determined that “the king can do no wrong.” Thus, because the sovereign (government) could not do wrong, it was declared to be immune from suit, unless it consented to be sued.

Both federal and state governments in America have adopted sovereign immunity. However, as we noted above, under the concept of sovereign immunity, governments can consent to be sued - and they often do. 

Consent to Be Sued

In Oregon, the state has enacted the Oregon Tort Claims Act, which is codified at Oregon Revised Statutes sections 30.260 through 30.300. This statutory scheme allows the government to be sued under certain circumstances. While some wording in the statutes suggests that any public body can be sued for its torts, including those of its employees, other parts of the statutory framework add limitations. Depending on the type of tort for which an injured victim may wish to sue the government, different considerations may come into play, including the following:

  • Are the victim’s claims covered by workers’ compensation insurance?
  • Was the state employee acting within the scope of his or her employment? 

A personal injury lawyer experienced in the complexities of sovereign immunity can help you analyze your claim and your right to proceed against the government.

The Rules Are Different Even if Sovereign Immunity Is Waived

The Oregon Tort Claims Act is a partial waiver of sovereign immunity. But even with this waiver, many of the procedural rules that apply to a suit against the State are different than the rules that normally apply in civil litigation. For example, the time limits in which to file a claim are modified. Therefore, it’s imperative to act quickly. Additionally, the law places limitations on damages that can be recovered.

As a note, while this article addresses the state of Oregon, there are similar considerations to address for claims against local governments or the federal government.

Call with Questions

If you have been injured as a result of the negligence of a state employee or other state action, you may very well have the right to pursue an action to recover damages for your personal injuries. However, the rules can be complicated, and time is of the essence.

The experienced Oregon personal injury lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield are familiar with the ins and outs of sovereign immunity and the Oregon Tort Claims Act. Please call us promptly with your questions so that you do not waive any of your rights. We believe that all wrongful actors must be held accountable, even when it is the government. It’s the best way to keep us all safer.


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