Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, you are able to sue the federal government if you are injured due to the negligence of a government employee, provided that the negligent action occurred while the employee was on the job.
Sovereign Immunity and the Federal Tort Claims Act
A doctrine called sovereign immunity protected the federal government from litigation for many years. Sovereign immunity essentially meant that you can’t sue the king, or queen, or the country’s ruling body. The United States has always followed this doctrine, but in the early 20th century the Federal Tort Claims Act was created. Designed to allow select types of lawsuits against federal employees, this act spent over 20 years in limbo, until one tragic incident sparked a change.
In 1945, one of the U.S. Army’s B-25 bombers was flying over New York on a foggy day with limited visibility. The visibility issues caused the pilot to crash the bomber into the Empire State Building, which at that time was the tallest building in the world. The crash resulted in the deaths of 14 people, three on the bomber and 11 in the Empire State Building at the time. Eight months after the crash occurred, the federal government offered money to the families of the victims, but most were dissatisfied with the amount and felt that they would have gotten more if they were allowed to file a lawsuit.
In response, Congress finally passed the Federal Tort Claims Act and made it retroactive to 1945 so the victims of the crash could sue for damages. The families ended up winning their lawsuits.
The Lawsuit Process
Filing a lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act is more difficult than filing a standard lawsuit, as you first have to submit a claim to the federal agency responsible for the alleged negligence. The federal agency will then review your claim, which is known as an administrative claim. The simplest way to submit this claim is by filling out the federal government’s Standard Form 95, which is available online at the Department of Justice website. You’re also able to get the form from the federal agency where you plan to submit it.
Although you have two years from the incident to file your claim, it’s best to file as early as possible in case there are any disputes about the timeliness of your claim. On your claim form, you have to provide information about your injury claim and how much you are seeking in damages. Once you submit your form, the agency has up to six months to investigate it and respond.
The best case scenario is that the agency admits that your claim is valid and decides to pay you the requested amount. It may also agree to pay you a portion of the damages you’re seeking, in which case you can choose whether or not to accept the offer. If you don’t want to accept the offer or if the agency denies your claim entirely, then you can file a lawsuit, which you must do within six months of the agency’s response to you. There is also the possibility that the agency doesn’t respond to your claim within six months. In that case, you can either wait for its response (the timeframe for you to file a lawsuit starts when the agency mails the response, so you won’t run out of time by waiting for a response) or go ahead with your lawsuit.
You have to file your lawsuit with the federal court, and you’re only able to sue for the amount specified in your administrative claim. Once the lawsuit begins, it follows the same process as any other. The Department of Justice usually assigns new attorneys to the case once lawsuit starts, which means they may be more willing to settle than the attorneys who reviewed your administrative claim.
Consulting an Attorney
You can represent yourself in a Federal Tort case, but the complexity of the law makes it smarter to hire an attorney. For the best results, consult with an attorney from the very beginning so they can guide you through the entire process.