The process for seeking legal remedy from the courts against a local government entity is influenced by additional factors that a suit against a person or company does not entail. Some of these factors are political considerations, changing city administrations and governmental tort claims laws.
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Carefully document your case. Keep the receipts of mitigation costs, take pictures of all alleged damages and ask witnesses to document their testimony in an affidavit as quickly after the events as possible. Carefully develop a narrative documenting all of the details of the incident. Because this case could proceed for a long period of time, it will be easy to forget some of the essential details. Worse yet, if your testimony becomes inconsistent; your credibility may be harmed.
Determine the proper venue for your case. For instance, a suit regarding the violation of your constitutional rights would probably be adjudicated in the federal court system, while a suit against the town for damages to your house created by a municipal sewer system backup would be handled in state court.
Research your state's government tort claims laws. Some states have laws known as governmental tort claim acts which require those seeking damages against a city in state court to first file a claim with the city. This law likely establishes a time frame in which you must file your claim.
File your petition in the appropriate court. Legal actions related to state law will need to be filed in the state district court, while a federal action will be filed in the federal district court.
Provide consistent and credible testimony. Carefully reference your narrative of the incident before your deposition and before testifying in court. Do not vary from your notes. Do not be afraid to admit to not remembering a specific detail or incident. The attorney for the municipality's insurance company will work hard to point out any inconsistencies in your testimony.
Take advantage of possible settlement opportunities. Town officials may be eager to settle out-of-court if your case proves to be politically embarrassing. Politicians do not like being held responsible for the misconduct of local officials and the court proceedings will be public knowledge. As the proceedings continue, these officials may become nervous and attempt to settle.
Also, in some towns, due to the stressful nature of their occupation, the job longevity for city managers is not long. Your suit may outlive the town's administration. New management may be eager to settle your suit in order to clean up and start fresh without the baggage from a previous administration.
Tips and warnings
- Unless the claim is small enough to adjudicate in small claims court, you may need to retain the services of an attorney to assist with drafting the petition, conducting discovery, issuing subpoenas, and making arguments before the court.
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