Governmental liability refers to situations where a government entity, whether local, state, or federal, can be held legally accountable for damages. These cases often involve instances where a government employee causes harm to another party while performing their official duties.
For example, if you were injured due to a government employee’s negligence, you might have grounds to pursue a lawsuit. However, these cases can be complex, largely due to a legal concept known as sovereign immunity.
What Is Sovereign Immunity?
Sovereign immunity, or governmental immunity, is a legal principle that originally comes from English common law, where it was believed that “the king can do no wrong.” In the context of U.S. law, this principle often protects government entities from being sued without their consent. This immunity is not absolute, however, and there are circumstances where the government can indeed be sued.
Let’s consider an example to illustrate the application of sovereign immunity and its exceptions:
Imagine a scenario where a USPS (United States Postal Service) mail delivery truck collides with a pedestrian. The pedestrian sustains severe injuries due to the accident. Under the principle of sovereign immunity, the USPS, as a federal agency, would generally be immune from a personal injury lawsuit.
However, under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), the pedestrian might still be able to sue the federal government for damages. This is because the FTCA allows for exceptions to sovereign immunity in cases where a government employee causes injury while acting within the scope of their official duties. Here, the mail carrier was performing their job, i.e., delivering mail, at the time of the accident.
So, the pedestrian, with the help of a government lawyer, can file an administrative claim with the USPS. If the claim is denied or the USPS fails to respond in an appropriate time frame, the injured party may then sue the federal government in court, aiming to prove that the mail carrier’s negligence caused their injuries. This way, the federal government can be held liable despite the general principle of sovereign immunity.
What Is the Federal Tort Claims Act?
One of the primary exceptions to governmental immunity in the United States is the Federal Tort Claims Act. The FTCA allows private parties to sue the United States federal government for most torts committed by persons acting on behalf of the United States. For example, if a federal government employee causes a car accident while on duty, and you suffer a personal injury as a result, you could potentially file a lawsuit under the FTCA.
Let’s explore another scenario that involves the Federal Tort Claims Act:
Consider a situation where a visitor at a National Park is injured by a falling tree branch. The visitor believes the accident occurred due to the negligence of the park’s maintenance team in failing to safely remove or secure dangerous tree limbs, particularly given that the tree was located in a heavily-trafficked area.
In this case, the injured visitor might decide to pursue a claim against the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, as the National Park Service is a federal agency. The FTCA provides a pathway for people injured by the negligent or wrongful act of a federal employee to seek compensation.
First, the victim would need to file an administrative claim with the National Park Service. The claim should include details such as the injury, the exact amount of damages sought, and evidence of negligence. If the claim is denied, or if the agency doesn’t make a decision within six months, the victim can then file a lawsuit in federal court.
Now, imagine an alternative scenario where the same accident happened, but this time, it was caused by a wild animal in the National Park. The victim may believe that the park rangers were negligent in not warning visitors about the presence of dangerous wildlife.
However, under the FTCA, the federal government maintains its sovereign immunity for claims arising from discretionary functions, which include policy decisions like wildlife management in national parks. In this case, the FTCA might not provide an avenue for relief, and a government liability lawyer could advise the victim on other potential avenues for pursuing their claim.
In either case, it’s important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney who can guide you through the complex process of suing the government for personal injuries. A lawyer can help ensure that all procedural rules are followed correctly, thus maximizing the chances of a successful claim.
What Are the Rules for Filing a Claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act?
Filing a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act requires several specific steps. Firstly, you must file an administrative claim with the appropriate federal agency within two years of the date your claim arose. This claim should include factual details about the incident and the damages you’re seeking. If the agency denies your claim or fails to respond within six months, you can then file a lawsuit in federal court.
Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario where these steps are followed.
Suppose John, a postal worker employed by the U.S. Postal Service, a federal agency, is involved in an auto accident while on duty. His mail delivery truck collides with Sarah’s car, causing her significant personal injury and damage to her vehicle. Sarah believes that John’s negligence caused the accident.
To seek redress under the Federal Tort Claims Act, Sarah first needs to file an administrative claim with the U.S. Postal Service. She does this within a year of the accident, well within the two-year deadline, and her claim includes all necessary details about the incident, such as the date, location, involved parties, and a statement of the injuries and damages sustained. She also includes an exact amount of monetary damages she’s seeking, which includes her medical bills, car repair costs, and any lost wages.
Six months pass without any response from the U.S. Postal Service. At this point, Sarah has the right to consider her claim as denied, and she can proceed to file a lawsuit in a federal court against the U.S. government for John’s negligence. In her lawsuit, she includes all of the information from her administrative claim and highlights the lack of response from the U.S. Postal Service.
Throughout this process, Sarah works with a personal injury lawyer who has experience dealing with the Federal Tort Claims Act. Her lawyer guides her through each step, ensuring that all paperwork is completed correctly and deadlines are met, thereby maximizing Sarah’s chances of a successful claim against the government. This scenario illustrates the important role a personal injury lawyer plays in navigating government liability issues.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for a Government Liability Issue?
If you believe you have a claim against a government entity, it’s highly advisable to hire a lawyer with experience in government liability issues. These cases can be incredibly complex due to the nuances of governmental immunity and the specific procedures required for filing a lawsuit against the government. A lawyer can help you understand your rights, gather necessary evidence, and navigate the intricacies of the legal process.
If you need help finding a qualified personal injury lawyer, LegalMatch can connect you with one in your area who handles government liability cases. Seek the justice you deserve today.