Suing a federal government entity for damages in a personal injury claim is more challenging than suing a private citizen or corporation. Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, you are not allowed to sue a government entity without its express permission. The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) is a highly complex law that allows specific types of lawsuits against a federal government entity and federal employees who have acted within the scope of employment while causing injuries, but certain strict rules must be followed.
For example, if you fall on a slippery patch in the post office because the janitor employed by the post office was negligent, you will need to follow the FTCA. Similarly, if you are a veteran suffering from a brain tumor and a Veterans Administration hospital doctor misdiagnosed you with PTSD, you would need to follow the FTCA to bring a medical malpractice claim.
Federal Tort Claims Act Procedures
The first issue is whether the Federal Tort Claims Act applies to your suit. If your suit is not specifically permitted under the FTCA, the doctrine of sovereign immunity will probably bar you from bringing it. The FTCA allows monetary compensation to be awarded when injuries are caused by wrongful (or negligent) actions of government employees. The law of the state where the act or omission occurred must permit the claim.
There are a number of exceptions. For example, independent contractors that the government hires cannot be sued under FTCA unless they are actually treated like employees. Negligent conduct that falls outside the scope of employment are not covered. Only rarely and in specific circumstances can claims of intentional misconduct be brought against police officers, for example.
The next step is to file an administrative claim. This claim should be filed with the federal agency that you believe is to blame for the negligence or misconduct. For example, if a postal truck hits you while you are walking the dog, your claim should be filed with the United States Postal Service. The federal government provides a check-the-box claim form that you can use, but it may be more prudent to retain a personal injury attorney with experience filing claims against the government.
The claim, including detailed facts and damages, should be filed as soon as possible, but certainly within two years from the time the claim arises. Moreover, since some states have a narrower statute of limitations for personal injuries and multiple entities, it may be important to file within a much shorter window, such as within a year of the accident. The government or another party may defend on the grounds that your claim is untimely if you wait to file.
After you file your claim, the agency has six months to respond under FTCA. The federal agency may agree your claim is appropriate and pay some or all of your damages. Or the agency may reject your claim or refuse to pay the total amount of damages you believe you deserve, in which case you have another six months from the date the agency mails the decision to file a lawsuit against the agency.
What if the agency doesn’t give you a decision within six months? At that point, you may go ahead with your lawsuit.Alternatively, you can wait until your administrative remedies are exhausted by waiting for the agency to give you a decision, even though the agency may take longer than six months. In multi-party cases involving nongovernmental defendants, you should not wait to consult an attorney about your civil suit, and you may not want to wait beyond six months for a decision to file a lawsuit.
Generally, your civil suit will be filed in the United States District Court where you live or where the actions giving rise to your claim happened. You cannot sue the federal government in state court or recover punitive damages. You may not ask for more money than what you requested in your administrative claim, unless there is newly discovered evidence.