Policy Analysis

Government Accountability for Causing Individuals Harm

Authored by Molly Davis, Policy Analyst, Criminal Justice Policy Analyst

Should a person be held liable for damages if they harm you? The answer is a resounding yes. However, while individuals can hold one another accountable in court, the government is held to a far lower legal standard than any private individual—if it’s held to one at all. This is because in many cases, the state shields itself from being held liable for any wrongdoing.

Long before America existed, English common law relied on a principle of rex non potest peccare, that is, “the King can do no wrong.” This principle has been implemented by American governments at all levels, making it difficult for anyone to successfully sue the government.

Cases against the government are regularly thrown out by judges due to government’s imperialistic immunity. In Utah, if the government is actually held accountable, justice is artificially limited due to caps on compensation. Those harmed by their government face a profound injustice due to immunity laws—and for that reason, the laws need to change.

Read More in our Public Policy Brief