Leading Civil Rights Attorneys Explain Governmental Immunity

Governmental Immunity Explained


The legal doctrine of governmental immunity stands for the idea that the government cannot commit a legal wrong and are immune from lawsuit or criminal prosecution for their activities. This concept is derived from common law in England where the translation of rex non protest peccare directly means, “the king can do no wrong.” Today, each jurisdiction has enacted some form of governmental immunity laws, and Michigan is no different. In Michigan, the process to file an injury claim against the government is found within the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA). Under the GTLA, government agencies are generally immune from liability for torts if the governmental agency is “engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function.” A “governmental function” is defined under the GTLA as an activity that is expressly or impliedly mandated or authorized by law. As long as the government action or actor has some basis in law authorizing it, then the government is typically protected from lawsuits. 


The main exception to get past governmental immunity in Michigan is to prove that the government actor’s conduct was grossly negligent, and the conduct was the proximate cause of any alleged injuries or damage. In police brutality and jail death cases, this is the exception that allows the government to be held financially liable for one of their actors’ actions. Other exceptions also exist within the GTLA that allow lawsuits against the state of Michigan, they include claims for:

  • Failure to maintain public highways: Michigan law requires roads to be reasonably safe and convenient for public travel.
  • Negligently operating a government-owned vehicle: The government can be held liable for the negligent driving of an employee operating a government-owned vehicle that is involved in an accident.
  • Defect in a public building: This involves a known, unsafe defect in a building that the government has not fixed in a reasonable amount of time, allowing the danger to exist.
  • Failure to provide adequate medical care: All care that is administered by hospitals owned by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and the Michigan Department of Community Health is subject to lawsuit for medical negligence.
  • Sewage disposal system damage or injury: Similar to defects in a public building, if a sewer or drain is not repaired in a reasonable amount of time and then causes and injury, the government can be held liable.
  • Performance of a money-making governmental function: If the government’s actions were to make a monetary profit from something other than general taxes and fees, then they can be held liable in an appropriate lawsuit.

If you have questions about the likelihood of being able to sue the government for the actions of one of its employees, then it is important that you speak to an experienced civil rights/ police brutality attorney immediately. There are time limitations on how long you have before you can bring your case forward. If you file too late, then you will likely be unable to ever file a successful lawsuit.


Trying to determine the strength of your case can be tricky and confusing to do on your own. Governmental immunity is designed to keep lawsuits against local and state governments down to a minimum. So, in many cases, people are not able to file suit against the government. Because of this, not many attorneys have real experience in suing the government successfully. To get the best advice about the strength of your case, it is wise to seek the advice of an attorney with a real track record of success in lawsuits for cases similar to yours. You will first need to determine if your case gets past governmental immunity and the coverage of the GTLA. Call us at Oakes Law Group so we can help you make that determination.


If you have one or more convictions on your criminal record that you are looking to expunge, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. At Oakes Law Group, we are proud to offer FREE consultations to all prospective clients. If you are in the process of choosing your attorney or are looking for an honest assessment of your legal situation, then our attorneys are available to help you now. Feel free to contact us anytime at 1-888-886-5711 or email. Our advice is free, and our conversations will always be protected by attorney-client privilege. Make your first choice towards a clean record with a consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney at Oakes Law Group today.

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