By John DiMotto
While a person who feels aggrieved by the conduct of another person/s has a right to seek legal redress, not all lawsuits may proceed. There are circumstances where a person engages in some conduct that causes harm yet a lawsuit will not be allowed. One such circumstance involves governmental officials, officers, agents and employees for acts done in their official capacity or in the course of their agency or employment. This is called Governmental Immunity. It is addressed in Wisconsin Statutes section 893.80.
Governmental immunity has several components:
First, there are strict time limits that must be followed in terms of giving notice to a governmental body - within 120 days of the event unless the claim is for recovery of damages for medical malpractice. Here, the time limit is within 180 days after discovery of the injury.
Second, government has 120 days to disallow the claim. If no action is taken by the government within that time frame, the aggrieved person has 6 months in which to commence an action. This operates as a statute of limitations.
Third, there are limits on a tort damage award for death or injury - $50,000 ($25,000 as to a volunteer fire company). No punitive damages are recoverable.
Fourth, no lawsuit may be based on acts that constitute intentional torts or for discretionary governmental acts. However, lawsuits are allowed if the conduct/acts involve a known danger, a ministerial duty or "professional" acts as opposed to governmental acts (medical decisions).
Fifth, governmental immunity does not prevent lawsuits for breach of contract or motor vehicle accidents or medical decisions or actions for declaratory relief or nuisance.
The purpose behind governmental immunity is to ensure that public officials, officers, agents and employees will not be hesitant to make decisions and do their job for fear of being sued. Governmental immunity provides a balance between governmental interests and private interests.