Suing the Federal Government for Your Injuries
Many injuries occur at work. For those claims, there’s workers’ compensation. Other injuries may happen on the road and involve ordinary citizens. For those situations, there are state claims that can be made in your local courthouse. But what happens when a federal government employee or agency is responsible for causing your injuries? As a general rule, the U.S. government has sovereign immunity, meaning it cannot be held liable for damages it causes, nor can it be sued. The primary exception is that Congress has the ability to waive sovereign immunity whenever it wants to, if it feels that it is in the public’s interest and in the interests of justice.
When the Government Waives Immunity
There are specific instances where the federal government waives its immunity. The primary way it does this is through a law known as the “Federal Tort Claims Act” (FTCA). Suing the federal government requires a bit more finesse than suing a neighbor, or another citizen. When Congress creates an exception to immunity, the rules and procedures must be followed explicitly. There is no wiggle room. It you fail to follow procedure, the federal courts will dismiss the case.
How to Bring a Federal Tort Claim Against the Government
As an initial point, it should be mentioned that you do not actually initiate a lawsuit against the U.S. government. You first notify the agency or department that is responsible and follow a specific administrative procedure. Then, if unable to resolve the matter, the case can be filed in a federal court.
Common Types of FTCA Cases Against the U.S. Government
When someone is injured by the federal government, it’s usually in one of a few limited ways. These tend to include:
Auto Accidents - If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident with a federal employee who is working in his or her capacity as an agent of the federal government at the time of the crash, then you may have a claim against the negligent federal employee and/or the federal agency. There are times when it can be difficult to know which option to pursue. For instance, rural postal carriers may use a private vehicle. If on the job, FTCA may let you file a claim against the Post Office. If on personal time, the driver’s private auto insurance will likely apply.
Medical Malpractice - There are federally owned and operated hospitals, nursing homes, and urgent care facilities all over the country. In fact, Federal Tort Claims Act medical malpractice is one of the most common forms of FTCA claims. The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) is the largest national healthcare system, and it employees tens of thousands of workers. When a VA doctor or other healthcare staff member provides negligent care to a veteran, it’s especially insulting and frustrating. Stories abound concerning the poor quality of care in federal veterans’ hospitals. One USA Today story from 2017 revealed that many VA facilities hid all sorts of negligent care. There are stories of wrong body part amputations and surgeries, infections, and instruments being left in patients during surgery. When these things happen, the victims need justice and compensation.
Trucking Accidents - The federal government sometimes operates large trucks and contractor supply vehicles on the open road. Just like a private trucking company, sometimes the federally-employed truck drivers are negligent and careless about operating on the highway.
Slip and Fall Cases - Large federal buildings have many of the same problems as large shopping centers and other public buildings. When careless workers do stupid, irresponsible or downright reckless things, people get hurt. Unmaintained and unrepaired loose steps, broken railings, and wet floors are just some examples of ways a government agency can cause injuries to the public.
Federal Tort Claims Act Statute of Limitations
There are actually two separate time limits when it comes to filing an FTCA claim against a government agency. The technical statute of limitations for a federal tort claim is 2 years from the date of the injury. But if you just focus on that number, you are missing a much more important deadline - the claims notice period. That is just 6 months. Here’s how the process works. You will quickly see why it is so important to hire federal tort claim attorneys who can protect your interests.
Step 1: Investigating the Claim
Most cases will involve significant medical treatment. Therefore, the first thing that must be done is a thorough and rapid investigation. Evidence can be hard to obtain, so speaking to a lawyer early is crucial.
Step 2: Provide Notice to the Agency
While the statute of limitations may give you 2 years to file, there is a shorter deadline that also applies. This is done through filing a form called the SF-95, and the process is defined further and explained in 28 U.S.C. 2675. Once you file your notice of intent or NOTICE OF CLAIM with the specific government agency responsible, that agency will begin its review. One of three things can happen next:
- The agency denies the claim. If the claim is rejected or denied, you have just 6 months to file a federal lawsuit in the appropriate U.S. District Court.
- The agency ignores the claim or does not respond at all. You will need to eventually decide whether to file suit or not. Once the 6 months has expired, you can assume it was denied and file your lawsuit.
- The claim is approved, but you wish to negotiate. If this happens, you can continue to negotiate, but you still need to file your lawsuit within 6 months of the approval. If not, you could potentially waive the right to further compensation.
Step 3: Filing the Lawsuit
The vast majority of these claims end up with Federal Tort Claims Act settlements. After all, only about 5-10% of all civil injury claims end up in court. Of those, only about 5-10% end up at trial. Most cases settle. But if you have a strong case and the government simply will not cooperate in negotiations or pay what you deserve, you may need to file a federal lawsuit. The federal court where you file will depend on three factors:
- The location where the injury happened
- The type of injury claim
- Your state and county of residence
For instance, if your injury happens in southern Illinois, it’s likely that you will be able to file your case in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. If the injury occurs in Missouri, but you are an Illinois resident, there are times when you may still be able to file in your home district. These jurisdiction and venue questions are highly complicated and strategic, so it is always best to discuss with a lawyer who is licensed in the federal court where you live and where you were injured.
Step 4: Resolving Liens and Appeals
Though rare, sometimes the U.S. government will appeal a verdict. This typically only happens when there is a political component to the case or where the agency needs to set precedent to avoid future lawsuits. Even when there is no appeal, you and your attorney will need to make sure any liens or claims against your case (health insurance, auto insurance, medical bills, etc.) are paid and resolved before you can receive your funds.
Step 5: Getting Paid
Finally, once everything is done, the verdict has been entered or a settlement has been signed, there will usually be a few months of lag time waiting for the agency to procure and mail the check. All checks come from the U.S. Treasury, so you should expect a little delay here as well.
Pursuing a Federal Tort Claim in St. Louis or Southern Illinois
If you suffered a serious injury at the hands of a government agency or negligent federal employee, you deserve compensation. Call the Federal Tort Claim Lawyers at Jerome, Lindsay & Salmi, LLP today. With nearly 60 years of legal wisdom and experience under our roof, our attorneys have the diverse and wide range of skills and experience needed to tackle cases large and small.
Keep in mind that many injury lawyers are terrified of dealing with federal court cases and, though they advertise them, they often refer FTCA cases to attorneys in large cities far away - even in other states. But at Jerome, Lindsay & Salmi, LLP, we can perform our own investigation and handle your case in-house locally. We are here to serve you through trusted and compassionate service when and where you need it most - right here in southern Illinois and St. Louis.
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