Tort Liability Of Municipalities

When a municipality is acting within its governmental capacity or is performing a governmental function, such as providing water or utility services, it is generally not liable for negligence with regard to the governmental function. However, if the municipality is acting in a proprietary manner, that is, when it owns or maintains real or personal property, the municipality may be liable for the negligence of its representatives, agents, and employees.

In order to recover damages from a municipality that is performing a proprietary function, a plaintiff must prove that his or her injuries were caused by negligence that was the result of the performance of the proprietary function. The plaintiff must prove that the negligence was the result of the municipality’s ownership or maintenance of real or personal property, such as the operation of the municipality’s motor vehicles or a dangerous condition that existed on the municipality’s real property.

A municipality is not an insurer of public safety. A municipality is only required to exercise ordinary care in its ownership of real and personal property. A plaintiff must show that the municipality caused or created a dangerous condition, that the municipality had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition, or that the municipality should have discovered or remedied the dangerous condition because of the length of time that the dangerous condition existed.

A municipality may be subject to strict liability for its proprietary functions. If the municipality conducts an abnormally dangerous activity, it will be strictly liable for a plaintiff’s injuries regardless of whether the municipality or its employees are negligent.

Although a municipality is vicariously liable for the activities of its representatives, agents, and employees, it is not liable for the activities of its independent contractors. However, if an independent contractor is engaged in an abnormally dangerous activity or if the municipality’s duty could not be delegated to the independent contractor, the municipality will be vicariously liable for the activities of the independent contractor.

The most common types of actions against municipalities are actions involving the condition or repair of the municipalities’ roads, sidewalks, and buildings. Other common types of actions include motor vehicle accidents with vehicles that are owned by the municipalities and that are being driven by the municipalities’ employees.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.