How to Sue a City Government

Like any other public or private entity, a city can be held legally accountable for damages that it causes to others. For example, if you slip and fall on the ice on the steps of city hall, you may be able to sue the city in the same manner as you would if you sustained a similar injury on the premises of a private corporation.

Nonetheless, suing a city poses a set of unique challenges and problems. Most states have statutes on the books regulating lawsuits against city governments. These statutes often give cities “immunity” against certain forms of lawsuits. If the legal action you are contemplating falls under this category, you will unfortunately be out of luck unless you can somehow frame your claim in such a way that it does not fall under the statute.

Needless to say, these statutes can be frustrating to persons seeking redress of just grievances against city governments. On the other hand, cities have been, and still are, the targets of countless frivolous suits that eat up taxpayer dollars.

In any event, suing a city is not a simple matter. You will need to hire an attorney versed not only in tort and injury law, but also in the statutes regarding lawsuits against cities.

As with any suit, your first step is to gather evidence and to determine exactly what you are suing for, and why.

If you wish, you can do some online research into the statutes of your state, and try to find out if cities can be sued for the kind of injury involved.

Soon, however, you’ll want to talk to a lawyer. An attorney experienced in such matters will usually be able to quickly ascertain whether your suit can proceed. If not, there is nothing that can be done.

If so, your lawsuit will be filed in the normal manner. It will be important for you to identify exactly who was involved in the injury or other matter for which you are suing. Your attorney will guide you through this process. He or she will also help you determine the amount you should sue for. Statutes often limit the dollar amount for damages for which cities can be sued.

Some say “you can’t fight city hall.” That’s not entirely true. Many people have fought city hall, and won. However, the law is usually rigged in favor of city hall, and against those who have the audacity to sue it.

28 thoughts on “How to Sue a City Government”

  1. I want 2 sue the city, the nypd auto pound auctioned my auto. i need 2 know what papers to file and where 2 file them. i am in within the time limit, i had 1 year and 90 days, i have 90 days left. I have forms from supreme court but have no ideas on how or which 1 2 fill out.

  2. settlement case lawyer charged in beginning 1/3 changed his mind and charged more, attorney’s fee:
    50% of the first 1,000.00=500.00
    40% of the next 2,000.00=800.00
    35% of the next 5,092.00=2,092.00
    hospital records charged 22.00
    totaling: $3,392.00 $392.00 more than he was suppose to charge can he do this?
    my question: after the settlement can the lawyer change his mind about his fee?

    • Teresa, thanks for your comments.
      If you have forms to fill out from the court you can ask at the court and *maybe* someone will help you there.
      Otherwise, we strongly advise that you consult an attorney. If you feel your lawyer has overcharged you then you may want to consult another lawyer, who will be able to review your contract and let you know what is permissible and what isn’t.
      Best of luck!

      • this almost impossible to find an attorney who wants to sue the city of ny. everyone has an excuse why they dont do the city. help centers in courts n libraries only give you what u ask for if u dont know they cant tell you n i dont know. my time is runnining out. thanks anyway!!!!

    • I work for an attorney. During consultation, before a case is taken, things are gone over and a fee contract is signed by the client and attorney. If his fee is more than what was on the contract you signed, then no, he can’t do that. however, he can recoup expenses incurred. Such as, if he paid for medical treatment, copy charges, experts, any reports, etc.

  3. well here is my concern… i drank a beer in the city of fairfield ohio.. i left the bar after maybe 30 minutes… when i left i noticed there was fairfield city cops everywhere.. i got pulled over.. the sgt of the state highway patrol said that he pulled me over to to touching the white lines on the road… then he said i didnt have a front liscense plate and that was his second probable cause.. my collectors car got impounded on thursday morning about 12:30 am.. the judge in fairfield municiple courts only works 3 days per week and gets paid for full time work, meanwhile my car is still in the impound yard, and it is is another city… i couldnt get my property released until this next tuesday in 5 more days, due to the judge not being present for work.. now i hired a lawyer that is going to cost my family almost 7,000.00 because i had “a” beer.. i would almost say that this was entrapment.. i seen it must have been 10 cops in about a miles distance… so they are waiting for people to leave the bars.. fairfield, ohio is known for “dui” city of the world.. what can i do?? i think the sherriff that pulled me over should be able to be sued for false observance of me…. that sherriff didnt even belong in this city.. in fact he lives a couple hours away… fairfield says they dont have enough cops to help patrol… yet the judge is on vacation 2 out of a 5 day work week… i could have been sitting in jail for 6 days… where would my right to a speedy trial of been??

  4. A Family Court Judge granted my ex husband Custody of my daughter approximately 14 years ago without allowing me any opportunity to fight
    for her. He did not look at the case from both sides, pretty much sided with
    my ex husband without even bringing me into court. Fast forward to now:

    My daughter is now suffering from PTSD due to years of mental, emotional,
    physical and sexual abuse while in the custody of her father. She is clinically
    depressed, has suicidal thoughts and tendencies and has very low self esteem.

    I don’t know which way to turn with this: Do I sue the city or do I sue the judge?
    What type of attorney do I need to hire for the suit? I want justice for my daughter because she has suffered serious psychological damage due to this judge’s decision.

  5. My city is gerrymandering council districts. This is while the state is going through a MAJOR citizens re-districting and the calls for transparency in government are constant. How do I fight that?

  6. Over a month ago I was assulted by a man at a stop light, I guess you can say threratend too (he said, while pointing to his glovebox, “if i go into my car your gonna have a problem”…word for word.. There were numerous phones calls to 911 some even stating they saw him assult me. 5 officers showed up and not 1 filled a report or got a whitness’ information (was there after the guy assulted me, just a whitness to his behavior). I filled a warrnet that monday morning and still have not recieved ANY information. I left messages to the officers to give me a call back in regaurds to the matter (and am getting copies of the phone calls to dispatch) and not one phone call was returned. So out of 5 cops not one could write a report against a 30+ male with a criminal record assulting a 20 yr old woman who he also threatend. NO actions by the city have been made to make me belive this is going to be handled properly. To me the city is saying to this guy he can obviously do and say as he pleases and no matter what I do he going to get away with it.


  7. The municipal judge, city attorney, and police chief all colluded together to triple building code fines. Now, the fine for a loose piece of siding costs more than a first offence drunk driving or hit and run ticket. Is this collusion? Is there grounds to sue,when the municiple judge, who is supposed to be fair and impartial, is the one who made up the fine structure along with the city attorney and the police chief?

  8. I was a restaurant owner looking into the a small town hall’s public records. The clerk, in a coverup of a breech of feduciary responsibility ( and in my opinion embezzelment) had two biker friends assault me inside the town hall. I have now closed my restaurant and moved out of town (kicked out is a better term). They are practiced at this in I am not the first person to have this done to them (the lay-term seems to be I was “home-towned”) In essense the sheriff seems to be in on this whole thin in that he receives “donations” from the town for his services. My civil rights were violated and I have no recourse because I ahve spent over $9000 on legal bills just to attempt to clear my good name from false charges leveled against me. I no longer expect anything from anyone anymore. Just a bunch of corruption all over from top to bottom? Good-bye American Dream.

  9. All cities that issue traffic-fines to hard-working individuals who are simply trying to get to work deserve to be sued and then some… especially since these so-called traffic-citations have absolutely NOTHING to do with traffic-safety and EVERYTHING to do with financial-extortion. The whole legal-system is a government-religion that’s rigged against the very people who actually make actual contributions to society & the economy whilst rewarding the mafia criminal-racketeering scheme simply because these mafia-criminals nominated THEMSELVES as government-officials with even more RIGGED writings from people behind closed doors whom you nor I have ever heard about who are called legislators. Exactly WHO are the names of these legislators!? Obviously a bunch of psychos who shouldn’t be wielding those pens…

  10. for the past 5-6 years i have been under post traumatic stress disorder from the city which includes all high officals. i cant explain exactlr what has caused it but i would love to explain in court to get a known high official under oath where there cant be no lies!!!

    Very truly yours,

    Gregory Stella

  11. My daughter was arrested for drug paraphanalia and her mug shot was posted to the cities Facebook page and the local paper before she had her day in court or was convicted of any crime. The emotional toll as well as the probability of her being losing scholarships, her education and possibly her job are punishment which far outway the crime. Is there any legal standing for suing the city for public harassment and punitive damages for this idiotic decision?

    • It varies by state. In most states it is perfectly legal because it is arrests, not people found guilty. In Louisiana, it has “innocent til proven guilty” on the magazine and online.

  12. I was in an accident yesterday on whittier blvd and valley home. on oncoming traffic and there were cars parked along the street blocking view of oncoming traffic and had a vehicle hit me ( T-bone) i want to sue the city and have them post a non parking in the street curb.

  13. We complied under protest to a new International Fire Code requirement for a KNOX KEY BOX on May 17, 2012. To date the fire dept has refused to issue a certificate of occupancy to our tenant. Tenant was threatened with $500 per diem fines if they open. I am now losing another tenant due to the economy. I cant afford NOT to be able to lease my unit out. I will not be able to pay for my property taxes come Jan 2013. We have filed a formal grievance against the fire chief. No response to dat (Aug 23, 2102). Have tried to file a police report on the fire chief, went to the sheriff, no one will help! What is happening in America?!?!? PLEASE HELP!!!!!

  14. About a month ago I was walking to the bus stop to go to work when I stunned my toe on an uneven sidewalk n ended up ripping my cuticle on my left foot about a week later I found out that I had gotten a cuticle infection n was walking around with a book on my foot causing me pain. Now I’m trying to sue my city for pain n suffering any one kno any good laywers so i can sue. Because its hard cuz no one wants to take the case on

  15. Ive recently been involved in a lot of trouble with the city i live in and a hospital within said city. What i need to know is what kind of attorney i need to hire to take actioan against said city and hospital. please help

  16. The issue is we bought our place 14 yrs. ago and now our City is telling us that there was a paper road that ran through it that was made up 80 yrs. ago and now it has to go in! First the land belonged to the County and in 1979 the City took over the land. And in 1979 we found out this home was permitted by someone to be put on this land. Our problem is can they legally go through our place? The house has been owned by 3 different families over the years and nothing ever said or done about this problem and now we are told it is our problem and fences have to come down that where there for over 30 yrs if not longer. We never moved a fence or changed anything from the time we bought our home. The real estate office that sold us the place told us the property lines where as marked and we believed that to be true and never had a attorney to look over the real estate, now we are told it was our mistake, in small print read fences may or may not be in correct place. But according to the real estate office the property was marked with stakes which were 15 ft from the fence. Now the City is telling us that the stakes were the center of this paper road 80 yrs. ago. This all came about when the land next door was sold and the new owner wanted to build, they have told him this road must go in before he moves into his place. We didn’t know this until just the night before Thanksgiving this year. We do not know what to do to stop this action from happening, we have no money to fight City Hall or our new neighbor, but on the other side of his property there is a place he can put a road besides there is a pave road in front of his house! If City makes this happen Oak Tree’s will have to be removed that are at least 40 yrs old. and will be going through another neighbors yard and the lady has lived there 35 yrs and is 81 yrs old and can’t fight this either. Thought there was a laws to save oak tree’s too! Laws I guess can change from day to day. But again if he put the road on the other side it would not go through anyone’s home and no tree’s would have to be removed. Is there any law that can protect us from this happening? Please Help! We have nowhere else to turn.

    Dixie Sharp

    • it is the buyers responsibility to hire a surveyor to check property lines, titles etc. not the seller or real estate agent. If fences are over your property line and someone makes a fuss, you have to remove them. there are many instances where fences, etc., are improperly placed but the land owner doesn’t mind. Hence, letting things remain the same. However, if someone else takes ownership and wants it removed, it has to be removed and at your expense. It doesn’t matter how long it has been like that.

  17. How about suing a town that protects a cop who hit my car while he was driving his squad car after leaving his girlfriend’s house (while on duty) and walked away with a promotion??? My car was legally parked on the street in front of my house. He was NOT going to a call and didn’t even have the decency to come to my door (the coward) to tell me what had happened. He received a promotion for his efforts within a month after the incident and the town refused to help me get my car back in an operational state. This situation has cost me thousands of dollars and they have done NOTHING to help me. I am told to take the salvage value of my car and sign a form saying that the incident was a “no fault” accident and I will not pursue any compensation for my loss. It’s an abomination, but a practice that is common in my town. Cops hit cars at least six times a year (in a town of less than 12,000) and nothing is ever done to address this problem. I don’t have the right last name or connections with the people at the town hall to get justice. This cop now lives with his girlfriend and has even gone as far as taunt me since the accident occurred. He is a volatile individual who recently had a loud and vile argument with his girlfriend that could be heard a half a block away. I fear for my safety, so I try to ignore the couple. No attorney will help me because they think that getting the salvage money for my car (the money is not enough to replace my car) is all I deserve. They say I have no right to ask for the $800 more it would take to get my car back on the street. I believe that being a woman is not helping me in this case and I resent the condescending attitudes of a number of the parties involved. Cops can get away with everything short of murder in this town and they know it!!! I’m afraid of the cops here, especially this idiot living next door!

  18. For 13 years Local Law Enforcement and the Political Body have allowed a Joint to run wild. It is in a block with predominantly residential occupancy. The Commonwealth of Virginia issued a license and ignored every part of the Cod in so doing. Loss of sleep. Loss of property value. Loss of use of at least one property.

    What has happened in 13 years and the snarling attitude of City Councils and at times the Police opens up a multitude of speculation as to why. The Governor, McAuliffe has just sent me the most recent in a long list of take a flying leap at he moon, the money from Liquor sales is all we are interested in , letters.

    Can I get a contingency Lawyer to take this on behalf of a minimum of 12 owners/residents ?

  19. I purchased a house, with 2 acres of land. There was a open 2 acres next to me. I man bought the lot and was permitted to build a house and large v garsge. The city also said he has to build his structures up. We live in a flood probe area, and now any time it rains , all the water comes on my land. There is a city ordinance that says you can’t flood your neighbors. I called the city , and he is giving me the run around and got the neighbor mad. Any suggestions. My property value is less because it floods in the back. Thanks Kathy


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