Every year thousands of residents of Maryland and Virginia receive medical care at military base facilities, share the road with postal trucks and visit national parks. If any of these people suffer an injury at the hands of a federal employee, they can bring a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act. In the past, you were not permitted to sue the government under the theory of “sovereign immunity.” Fortunately, the Federal Tort Claims Act allows certain kinds of lawsuits against federal employees acting within the scope of their employment.
The Federal Tort Claims Act is intended to provide an avenue to recovery for injury, property loss or death caused by the wrongful act or omission of any employee of the federal government.
Limitations to Liability
One of the first requirements to bring a lawsuit against the federal government is that the negligent person is a federal employee. If there is no employer-employee relationship, you will not be able to bring a lawsuit under the Act. For example, an independent contractor hired by the government will not result in an employer-employee relationship. Without the require relationship, there is no government liability.
The Federal Tort Claims Act dos have limits to recovery. The Act specifically excludes 11 common law claims for which a private person would be liable:
- False imprisonment
- False arrest
- Malicious prosecution
- Abuse of process
- Interference with contractual rights
If you are injured in any of these particular situations, you will not be able to file suit against the government.
The Act also excludes several classes of plaintiffs, including:
- Active-duty servicemembers and their families injured incident to service
- Federal employees injured while performing their duties
Whether a servicemember or federal employee is barred depends primarily on the circumstances of the injury.
Once it is established that the government may be liable, you must file a claim with the federal agency responsible for the alleged misconduct. For example, if you are struck by a mail delivery truck, you would file your claim with the U.S. Postal Service.
In the administrative process, you have two years to bring your claim or it will be barred. The agency then has six months to respond, where they can admit wrongdoing and pay you or deny liability. If the agency denies liability, then you have six months to file a lawsuit. It is important to note that the six month time period only begins once the agency renders a decision, if they do not make a decision then the clock does not start. This process is often referred to as exhausting your administrative remedies.
Federal District Court
You must file your lawsuit in the United States District Court where you live or where the incident occurred. For example, if your claim involved an accident at a national park, you have the option of filing your lawsuit in the federal court where you live or where the national park is located. Your district court lawsuit cannot be greater than the administrative claim, unless you present newly discovered evidence that adds to the value of the injury.