What You Need to Know About Pursuing a Personal Injury Claim Against the Federal Government
Most people are familiar with personal injury litigation against a reckless driver, a physician responsible for malpractice or a corporation that willfully endangers the public.
Yet far fewer people are familiar with another scenario: Suing a federal governmental entity in a personal injury claim. This type of litigation is typically more challenging than other forms of personal injury law, as the federal government is protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. This doctrine means that you cannot sue a government entity without permission to do so.
The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) is the legal standard by which such permission to sue may be granted. Under the rules of the FTCA, personal injury claims against government entities or federal employees may be authorized, but only if such claims fit within certain parameters.
This means that, for example, if you or a loved one is injured by a falling object inside a federal building, it’s possible you may sue the government — or the federal worker responsible for dropping the object — if the circumstances meet FTCA requirements.
Or, if you’re a military veteran who was injured as the result of malpractice by a Veterans Administration physician, you may also pursue a claim under the rules of the FTCA if your case is eligible.
It’s important to note, however, that the FTCA is quite complex and features a number of rules and exceptions that must be followed in order to successfully pursue litigation.
The History of the FTCA
Like many significant laws or regulations, the FTCA was passed as the result of a high-profile incident that garnered public attention.
In 1945, a B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building in New York City, after the military pilot became disoriented by extensive fog. The crash killed 14 people and seriously injured many more, including a woman whose elevator fell 75 stories to the ground floor (she miraculously survived).
The federal government offered to compensate the families of victims, but a contingent of these families did not wish to accept the proposed settlement. Federal law, however, did not permit the government to be sued.
Public outcry over the event pushed U.S. Congress to pass the FTCA in 1946. Congress also chose to make the FTCA retroactive, allowing families of the Empire State Building plane crash to sue.
More than 70 years later, all personal injury claims against the federal government are governed by FTCA rules.
How the FTCA Works
The first step to complete in any personal injury action involving federal entities is an eligibility check. Some legal actions may fall outside FTCA’s scope, and therefore are ineligible for litigation. If the FTCA does not explicitly approve your case type, the doctrine of sovereign immunity will likely preclude your case from moving forward.
Broadly speaking, the FTCA allows injured parties to seek monetary compensation from the federal government or federal employees in the absence of certain exceptions. These exceptions include:
If a case isn’t excluded under the rules of the FTCA, the injured party should then file a claim with the government entity responsible for the injury. For example, if a person is struck by a vehicle being driven by an employee of the federal Department of Agriculture, a claim should be filed with that department.
These claims should include all relevant details about the incident and the injuries and/or losses that occurred. This may include physical injuries, property damage, financial losses etc. Injured parties can send for a standardized claim form to submit, or work through an experienced personal injury attorney when submitting this claim. When submitting a claim, an injured party or an attorney typically specifies the amount of damages being sought. It is critical to seek legal guidance on these claim forms, as the value of your claim could be limited if the form is not correctly filled out.
Timeliness is a key issue. While the federal government allows up to 24 months to pursue a personal injury claim, the statute of limitations within states may be considerably briefer. Claims that are not filed before these deadlines may be dismissed.
Federal agencies will respond to claims within six months, and may choose to pay requested damages in full, offer partial payment or deny a claim.
If an agency does not meet the full demand, or fails to replay within six months, injured parties may proceed with litigation. Civil suits are typically heard in U.S. District Court, within the specific jurisdiction where the plaintiff resides.
Plaintiffs may not seek additional damages beyond what was specified in their initial claim unless new evidence is entered. Plaintiffs are also barred from seeking punitive damages against the federal government or suing the federal government at the state level.
Finding the Right FTCA Attorney
Pursuing personal injury claims against a federal department or agency and/or federal employees is typically much more difficult than initiating legal action against another person or corporation.
Injured parties must deal with the complexities of establishing FTCA eligibility, create a claim, decide how much to ask for in total damages, ensure that all deadlines are met and then determine whether an agency’s claim response is worthy of acceptance.
Given the difficulty in navigating this process, it often makes sense to work with an experienced attorney who specializes in FTCA actions. The right attorney can make the process much easier to negotiate, while also helping ensure that you are fairly compensated for any injuries you’ve suffered.
At Doyle Law, we have a long track record of helping our clients successfully pursue personal injury claims under FTCA rules. Our firm founder, Conal Doyle, is one of the few attorneys in American history to have argued an FTCA case in the United States Supreme Court.
If you (or someone you love) have been injured due to the negligence of a federal agency or federal worker, we encourage you to reach out to Doyle Law today.