The general answer is "yes." But there are procedures, and there are limits.
First, a bit of background. Traditionally, the government has been immune from any kind of claim from a citizen, but the States of Oregon and Washington, as well as the Federal Government have passed statutes that have given the citizens permission to file lawsuits, but there are limits to the types of cases that may be brought, as well as the amount that can be claimed. We will take it state by state, and then talk about federal claims. Remember, this is not a complete explanation, but a good summary.
The State of Oregon
Oregon has a Tort Claims Act. A "tort" is a civil wrong, like when someone ignores a stop sign, and causes an injury. It is not necessarily a crime, but wrongful behavior, and so it is called a tort.
Oregon's tort claim statute requires that you provide appropriate notice to the responsible agency, or the state government within a certain period of time. For an injury claim, you must provide written notice of your intent to file a claim within 180 days of the injury. The notice has to describe the time, place and circumstances giving rise to the claim. There has to be enough information that will allow the agency to investigate and determine whether or not it was responsible. After you provide notice, you can file your claim in court. You do not need to wait for any response. You must file the claim within the time permitted under the statute. For injury claims, the general time limit is two years, but that depends on the case.
There are limits on what kind of claims you can make, and also the amount you can claim. For example, you can not make a claim that the governrment did not make the right kind of choice with the limited resources it has to deal with a problem. This is called "discretionary immunity." However, if there is a statute or rule that tells the government to do a certain thing a certain way, and it does not, that is not discretionary, it is a violation of the law.
There are also monetary limits on what you can claim and recover. The Supreme Court found that the old limits were unconstitutional because they denied injured citizens a remedy guaranteed under the Constitution for the State of Oregon. New limits were passed by the legislature, and they will likely be argued also as unconstitutional.
One more thing: this act allows claims against "subdivisions" of the government, like Cities, Counties, Special Districts, Ports, or any other government entity.
The State of Washington
The State of Washington also has a tort claims process. You must complete a form, and provide specific information about the facts of your claim, your injuries, your medical care, and your lost wages. You must provide this information to the Office of Risk Management within the time you have to file the lawsuit against the agency, and you must give the Office of Risk Management sixty days to look over the materials. You can only file a lawsuit after the sixty day time period has elapsed. After the sixty days, you may file the claim if you cannot resolve your dispute with the State of Washington.
The Federal Tort Claims Act
The Federal Tort Claims Act requires that you file a claim with the federal agency that caused your injury. The claim has to be filed with a Standard 95 Form, and you must file it within two years of the date of your injury. You have to give the federal agency six months to consider the claim. If it rejects the claim, or if the six months expires without any action, then you may file your claim.
Just like the state tort claims act, there are limitations on the kinds of cases you may bring, and possibly, the amounts you may recover.
We have handled tort claims against many cities, counties, the States of Washington and Oregon, and the federal government. If you have a question about a claim against the government, call us at 503 325 8600. We help people with issues like this all the time.