At what point is it no longer appropriate for government officials to hide behind sovereign immunity in order to get away with committing crimes? Check out a recent abuse of power story involving Alabama sheriffs pocketing funds earmarked to feed inmates leaving inmates underfed and/or fed unfit food.
What is sovereign immunity?
“Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that protects a sovereign body (ie, the federal or state government and their respective agencies) from being held liable for civil wrongs (torts) committed by its departments, agencies, or employees, unless consent to be sued is expressly granted by the sovereign body itself.” Sovereign Immunity: Principles and Application in Medical Malpractice by Michael Suk, MD, JD, MPH, FACS.
Why should the government agency at fault be allowed to negate themselves from penalty? That’s the multimillion dollar question.
Some states have specific exceptions to the protection of sovereign immunity; however, many of the heinous acts committed by government employees still fall under that umbrella and there is no fruitful recourse for their victims. Why? Just play out the string. WARNING: Lots of assumptions are made in the following example:
- The government agency doesn’t accept responsibility for the heinous act committed by its employee and won’t give permission to the wronged party for the agency to be sued.
- The wronged party files a civil suit against the government employee.
- The jury finds the government employee at fault and awards the wronged party damages.
- The government employee has no assets to pay the jury award.
As an added complication, if it’s an officer that is the government employee, many jurors dislike (and shy away from) holding them responsible for what is usually defended as an on-the-job mistake.
So where does that leave the wronged party? Frequently out of luck. Twice.