You may be surprised to learn that in New York City and northern New Jersey, there are 10 national parks with 22 unique destinations, including the National Parks of New York Harbor, which has more than 27,000 acres and welcomes 12 million people annually.
It may not surprise you to learn that this creates ample potential for accidents and injuries.
The federal government is responsible for maintaining these sites, and like any other property owner opening its doors to the public, the government has a duty to keep these sites in safe condition for visitors.
Still, suing the federal government can prove challenging, no matter how strong the claim. Our New York City premises liability attorneys know claims against the federal government follow strict deadlines, notification procedures and ample evidence of violation under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).
Although historically per the doctrine of “sovereign immunity,” people weren’t allowed to sue the federal government for negligence, the FTCA allows litigation against itself and sometimes employees. The limitations are still significant, and the requirements lengthy, but there have been numerous lawsuits asserting negligence against the federal government that have resulted in millions of dollars in compensation to plaintiffs.
Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court order regarding a lawsuit against the federal government, allowing plaintiff injured at a national park to pursue her claim for damages.
In Young v. United States, plaintiff was visiting a national park in Washington with her husband and young daughter when she fell into a 12-foot hole that had developed beneath the snow near a buried transformer near the park’s visitor entrance.
She suffered severe injuries as a result of that fall.
The hole was covered with snow and not obvious to visitors, though it was both created by and known to park supervisors, who were familiar with the fact that heat from the nearby transformer caused a pocket of melted snow just beneath the surface. When snow plows came through the area, that spot was specifically marked with hazard flags. However, those indicators were not up at the time of the accident.
Although the area where the hole was located didn’t encourage foot traffic, neither were visitors prohibited from entering.
Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit asserting the National Park Service negligently failed to warn plaintiffs of a known, latent hazard the agency had created. Plaintiffs sought damages for physical injuries, medical costs, economic losses, pain and suffering and loss of consortium.
The trial court ruled the claim was barred, pointing to the discretionary function exception. This provision states that if a worker makes a choice that is discretionary (rather than part of department policy), the government can’t be held responsible for that decision, even if it turns out to be a bad one.
On appeal, however, the federal appellate panel reversed, finding a decision not to warn of a known hazard was not a protected decision. Specifically, the court held that to do so would not implicate any concerns for visitor access or enjoyment or environmental preservation. The only policy the service needed to consider was visitor safety, one that, according to the court, “It appears to have ignored.”
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Young v. United States, Oct. 17, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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