Governmental Immunity

By Michael Goldberg

Emily Dunn was killed while crossing the street in a crosswalk in San Francisco by an inattentive municipal bus driver. This case raises a question about governmental immunity. Whenever a governmental entity is involved, the claimant must show that her claim is not barred by soveriegn immunity. A citizen is not allowed to sue the government except to the extent that the government has waived its defense of immunity by the purchase of insurance or otherwise. Recognizing the need to protect citizens from negligent governmental actors, many governments have passed laws that allow governments to be sued for certain negligent acts but frequently placing caps on the amount of damages. Without such a law, the government cannot be sued no matter how egregious the conduct. In this case, Dunn was in the crosswalk and the bus driver was looking in his rearview mirror instead of paying attention to the people in front of him. The bus driver was clearly negligent in striking Dunn. However, there may end up being no recovery or only a limited recovery depending on the laws in California concerning governmental immunity for bus operations.

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