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The Federal Tort Claims Act: You can Sometimes Sue the Government for Negligence

On Behalf of | Apr 3, 2014 | Articles

You can’t really sue the government for property damage or injury due to a common law doctrine known as sovereign immunity. This doctrine came into existence as a way to protect monarchs from being sued, but still holds true since you can’t just sue the U.S. government. However, under the Federal Tort Claims Act, you can file a lawsuit against the government in certain situations.

When does the FTCA Say You can Sue the Government?

The FTCA allows you to file a lawsuit for injury, loss of property, or wrongful death caused by a federal employee only if it was caused by negligence and if you could file a similar lawsuit against a private person and win. So, if state law doesn’t allow you to sue someone in a certain situation, then you can’t sue the government for that same event.

Furthermore, for you to be able to sue, the federal employee must have been within the scope of his/her employment when the event occurred. For example, if an FBI agent crashed into you while chasing a suspect, then you might have a case. However, if the same FBI agent crashed into you while driving his kids to school, you can’t sue the government, even if he was driving his work vehicle.

You can only file a lawsuit if the claim is the result of negligence and not intentional misconduct, though in a few cases you can also file for intentional misconduct if the party to blame was a certain type of federal law enforcement officer. For example, you cannot sue the United States for assault, false imprisonment, false arrest, abuse of process, slander, battery and so on, unless any of these actions are the result of a law enforcement officer’s negligence.

Additionally, you cannot sue the government for an act perpetrated by someone working as an independent contractor for the government unless their contract gives them employee status. For example, if a construction company is doing work for the government and you somehow are injured by one of the employees, you cannot sue the government. Instead, you will have to sue the construction company.

These are just a few of the limitations when it comes to suing the United States, as there are many more. However, the government pays out millions of dollars every year on lawsuits, so if your lawyer says you have a valid case, it might be worth filing your claim.

How does the Process Work?

First, you have to file a claim within two years with the federal agency responsible for your situation. So, if an FBI agent crashed into you, then you’d have to file with the FBI. At this stage it is considered an administrative claim. Note that you should file as quickly as possible to make sure it doesn’t get rejected as being late.

Make sure you include as many facts as possible in your claim along with the amount you want in damages. An SF 95 form will ensure you’ve provided all the information the agency requires to carry out its investigation.

After submitting your claim, the agency has to issue a ruling within six months. If you have a strong case, the federal agency may admit your claim and offer to compensate you in full or in part, so you may not have to go to court.

If the federal agency refuses to compensate you or rejects your claim, you then need to file your lawsuit within six months from the date when the decision was mailed to you. If the agency doesn’t make a decision within six months, you can either wait for their decision or go ahead and file the lawsuit. Note that the clock starts counting down on the six-month limit only once a ruling has been made.

Suing the United States is a complicated process and definitely a lot more work than suing a private person or company. For this reason, it’s generally a salient idea to engage the services of an experienced lawyer, who can analyze your situation and tell you whether you have a case or not. This will save you time and money, while also increasing your chances of winning.  If you or anyone you know has been a victim of a catastrophic injury or wrongful death by a private citizen or government employee, call the attorneys at Makarem  & Associates directly at 310-312-0299 or by email at [email protected]