Justice and Due Process

Government-owned businesses shouldn’t be above the law

There’s no special law protecting private gyms or golf courses from lawsuits, so why should there be one for these businesses when owned and operated by the government? Utah law currently provides these facilities immunity from lawsuits.

This means that in most circumstances, individuals cannot sue the government, even if they were injured or harmed from a governmental wrongdoing involving these government-owned enterprises. Instead, one can only sue if the government gives them explicit permission to do so.

What reasonable person would allow for someone to sue them if they had the choice to avoid litigation altogether?

The state government and its employees don’t just occupy the walls of courtrooms and the Capitol. It has, over time, expanded its control and employment to water systems, roadways, parks, conference centers, recreation centers, golf courses, and more. Some of these entities are massive businesses which the government owns and operates. The only major differences between these institutions and their private counterparts are ownership and funding. Because of this, the question is raised; why should government-owned businesses be excluded from the liability and laws that their private competition has to legally abide by?

In certain cases, specifically outlined in Utah code, individuals do have the right to sue the government. However, they can only sue up to a certain capped amount, regardless of the circumstances or damages accrued. If damages result in fees that surpass the cap, the harmed individual is simply out of luck in the court system. Beyond the courtroom, they have the option to continue their battle for funding beyond the cap by appealing directly to the Legislature.

Utah’s policy on immunity is even harsher than what the federal government provides. While government-owned entities in Utah employ over 150,000 workers, federally owned government entities employ only 35,000 in Utah. Yet, interestingly enough, the federal government has no cap or ceiling when its employees cause an injury and incur liability. They can be sued for any amount to cover all potential damages against a victim.

How do elected officials in Utah feel about the issue? Attorney General Sean Reyes explained he doesn’t support governmental immunity from lawsuits because “government ought to be treated in many ways like a business” and they should be held accountable “if they’re liable and you can prove a case.” Similarly, Governor Gary Herbert explained that when a government entity or employee hurts an individual, the person needs “to have some recourse. The government’s got to own up as an entity to make things right.”

It only seems fair that individuals should be able to legally hold government accountable for their actions—especially when the state involves itself in business activities that are provided by private competitors who do not enjoy such protection against liability for their actions. Utah law should remove immunity for government-owned businesses to provide a fair playing field.