Sovereign Immunity in Wyoming Parks
Wyoming is home to some of the most beautiful stretches of landscape in the country, often protected by state or national parks. From Bighorn National Forest to Keyhole State Park, residents and visitors have a wide variety of natural reserves to explore. However, every park comes with its own host of dangers.
Most campers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts understand the risk of exploring the wilderness and assume that you cannot file a personal injury claim if you suffer an injury in a state or national park. However, if you are injured because of the negligence of a park ranger or other staff member, then there is a process for holding government agencies accountable and fighting against sovereign immunity.
What Is Sovereign Immunity?
Sovereign immunity is the legal concept that an individual or group cannot sue a government agency. While this would apply to most cases, it is not a universal rule. Many states, including Wyoming, have tort claim laws that allow victims to file personal injury claims against a government employee or agency. For Wyoming, this is the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act (WGCA). In addition, victims may also invoke the Federal Tort Claim Act, which applies to all federal agencies, including national parks.
Filing a Claim Against a Park
We expect injuries when we head to a state or national park, especially if you enjoy recreational activities like ATV riding, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Even something as leisurely as boating can lead to a serious collision or drowning. But to file a claim specifically against a park under the WGCA or the Federal Tort Claim Act, you will need to not only prove negligence occurred but also abide by specific statues.
The WGCA outlines seven scenarios where you can file a claim, but only two tend to apply to parks:
- A vehicle collision, which cars, boats, and planes, involving a government vehicle
- A premises liability claim, such as a faulty railing on a pathway or a tripping hazard in a gift shop
However, suffering an injury is not enough to file a claim. You must also demonstrate that the park agency was liable and acted negligently. To do that, you must demonstrate that:
- You were injured by a government employee;
- The employee was acting within his or her duty;
- The employee was negligent in his or her duty; and
- That negligent act led to your injuries.
Based on these rules, you cannot file a claim against the government if the party who injured you was a private company. Instead, you would file a standard personal injury claim. In addition, that government employee must have been performing his or her standard job, such as maintaining a road, cleaning a public facility like a park bathroom, or patrolling a park. Next, the employee must have acted negligently, such as leaving hazardous equipment on a roadway, failing to put up a wet floor sign, or speeding in a government vehicle.
You must also file your claim within two years of the injury. This is half the standard statute of limitations for most personal injury claims in Wyoming, but still significantly more than most other states, which can be as short as 180 days. Once your claim is filed, you have up to one year after receiving a rejection letter to file a lawsuit. Note, this only applies to claims against the state of Wyoming. For the federal government, you have six months after a rejection to file a claim.
Advocating for Damages From the Government
As you can tell, filing a tort claim against a state or federal park is a more complex process than if you were injured by a private party. The deadlines and criteria are stricter, and you are far more likely to face an outright rejection. The state of Wyoming also caps the amount of money a victim can receive in a tort claim to $250,000 for compensation for individuals and $500,000 for a group of individuals injured in a single incident.
To ensure you receive a fair shot at compensation and file your claim properly and on time, contact a Gillette personal injury attorney at Steven Titus & Associates, P.C. Our legal team has a thorough understanding of the claims process and have handled multiple cases for injured clients. We can review your case to determine if negligence occurred and work with you to build a firm case for compensation. Call us at (307) 257-7800 to learn if you are eligible for a tort claim in Wyoming.
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