The federal government is a large part of all of our lives. We can debate how much of a part, and debate whether that is good or bad, but the fact is that when any agency or entity is so much a part of our daily lives, there is always the chance of injury and liability.
Claims for injuries caused by the federal government can have a broad range. Liability can include veterans injured my malpractice in a VA hospital. It may include an injury suffered in an accident involving a post office vehicle, or a vehicle driven by a federal law enforcement agent. You may slip and fall in a government building, such as an office building or a courthouse.
When can the Federal Government be Sued?
Suing the federal government is not the same as suing a private person or company. There is a complex web of regulations that must be followed, called the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). These regulations seem onerous, but in fact, they are in many ways a concession by the government.
Historically, citizens could not sue their government (“the sovereign,” or “the king,” in terms of our roots in ancient English common law). The FTCA is an exception to that immunity—it is the government’s way of allowing you to sue them, and that permission comes with limitations.
First, to sue the federal government, the negligent person must be an actual government employee and not an independent contractor. Knowing the difference between both may not be readily apparent at the scene of an accident. As you can imagine, an entity as broad as the government utilizes a great number of contractors to carry out its duties.
The other requirements are a bit easier to determine. The person must have been acting in the scope of his or her employment. The claim must be allowed in the state that the accident occurred.
Where is the Injury Sustained?
Importantly, the FTCA bars any suits against the government for injuries sustained in foreign countries. This is of vital importance to active duty military members overseas. Lawsuits for injuries sustained on an army base or due to the negligence of any member or arm of the federal government while overseas are likely barred by the FTCA. There is currently no exception to this FTCA bar for service members.
Procedural Issues with the FTCA
Procedural hurdles cause problems, as well. Regardless of the statute of limitations in your state, an FTCA suit must be filed in two years. That suit is not actually a lawsuit, but a claim made to the responsible agency. That claim must include the exact amount you are claiming as damages.
This is important because generally, if you have to file a lawsuit later, your lawsuit damages will be limited by whatever figure you stated in your administrative claim.
After the claim is made the agency has six months to investigate it. If they feel there is merit, they may offer to pay you the damages requested. If you accept, your case is settled for that amount. If the agency denies your claim, you have six months after that to file your lawsuit in federal court, when it will proceed as any other lawsuit would.
If you are injured, you should be aware of how your case must be handled, which often depends on who injured you and how. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your injury or liability case.