Transportation Security Administration

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 What is the TSA?

The TSA, which is officially known as the Transportation Security Administration, is a government agency established under the U.S Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The main function of the TSA is to oversee and enforce security measures of those traveling in the United States by way of air travel (e.g., commercial flights, airline terminals, etc.).

The TSA was originally formed for the purposes of catching potential terrorists after the 9/11 attacks in September of 2001. Some of the TSA duties include performing security checks of luggage, screening passengers before they enter the section for their assigned gate, and disposing of dangerous materials, products, and/or chemicals being carried on a person or within their luggage.

For instance, before the attacks on 9/11, families could see their loved ones off at the gate. After the 9/11 attacks, however, no one except for passengers with valid airline tickets are allowed to pass through security now. This happens to be one of the security measures implemented and carried out by the TSA and its agents.

If you have any questions about TSA procedures or would like to know how to file a lawsuit against the TSA for damages, you should consult with a local government lawyer immediately for further legal guidance.

Can You Sue the TSA?

Depending on the facts of a particular case, an individual may be permitted to bring a lawsuit against the TSA or a TSA agent for damages. However, in order to sue TSA agents or the TSA, the individual must first demonstrate that they suffered bodily harm or an economic loss. This is done by filing a claim for personal bodily injury inflicted upon them during the TSA screening process and/or for TSA procedures that caused their luggage to become lost or damaged.

It is important to note that a traveler will first need to complete the claims process before they will be permitted to file a private lawsuit against the TSA in a U.S. District Court. The claims process will be discussed in further detail in its designated section below. In addition, some claims may only be filed by the government on behalf of individuals.

What Are Some Common Claims Against the TSA?

There are a number of claims that an individual can file against the TSA. However, the majority of these types of claims will consist of either violations of a person’s constitutional rights or violations of a person’s civil rights. For example, a person’s constitutional rights may be violated if a TSA agent did not comply with the proper procedures when searching or detaining a traveler.

Another type of claim that is often brought against individual TSA agents is a lawsuit for bodily injury and/or damage done to a person’s luggage during a TSA security screening. Such cases will be governed by a federal law known as the Federal Torts Claim Act. The Act provides guidelines for when a person can sue a TSA agent for tortious conduct that caused them to suffer a personal injury or a financial loss (e.g., a lost suitcase).

Some other common claims that may fall under a violation of a person’s civil or constitutional rights can include:

  • Being subject to sexual assault or humiliation in front of other travelers when performing a pat down or another type of security procedure that involves physical contact; or
  • Being singled out as part of a legally protected group based on race, disability, gender, or age (e.g., searching only minors and elderly travelers).

In addition, a traveler may report and ask that criminal charges be filed against a TSA official whose conduct was so excessive or invasive that it amounted to a crime.

Can A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Agent Detain You?

A TSA security officer cannot detain a traveler. They can perform a quick pat down as a passenger walks through security and do a brief check of their bag after it passes through an x-ray scan, but a TSA security officer cannot actually detain or arrest a traveler. The reason for this is because TSA security officers do not have the authority or power to make arrests.

However, TSA security officers can ask law enforcement agents, police officers, and officers who work for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency to do so if the circumstances warrant it.

As such, it is not uncommon to see officers from at least one or more of these law enforcement agencies stationed at U.S. airports. Accordingly, a TSA security officer can easily reach a law enforcement officer who does have the authority to arrest people if there is a security issue.

How Do I File a TSA Complaint?

In general, a traveler can file a TSA damage claim through the portal located on the website for the TSA. After this is submitted, the traveler can expect to wait roughly four to six weeks to receive an acknowledgement letter issued by the TSA that contains further instructions as well as a number to track the status of their TSA damage claim. The TSA will then investigate the claim, which can take as long as up to six months to fully complete.

If the TSA approves a traveler’s claim, then they will receive a letter and be asked to fill out an additional form that includes information on how to issue funds for the traveler’s injuries or how to comply with the terms of the TSA’s settlement agreement.

On the other hand, if a traveler’s claim is denied or has failed to be resolved within six months from the date that the TSA received it, then the traveler may file a private civil lawsuit in the proper U.S. District Court.

Some other tips that may be helpful for travelers to keep in mind when filing a TSA damage claim include:

  • Making sure to provide as many details as possible, including receipts and flight information, when submitting the documents for a claim;
  • Contacting an airline or airport directly regarding questions about missing, damaged, and/or lost luggage;
  • Checking that the agents who performed the screening procedure are in fact agents of the TSA and not employed by a private airline company; and
  • Understanding that some claims may take longer to investigate if law enforcement officers were involved in the investigation process.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Generally speaking, it may be in your best interest to work with TSA lawyers in your area if you find yourself involved in any of the following scenarios:

  • If you have been injured by a TSA agent during a security screening or pat down;
  • If your luggage has been damaged or lost due to TSA procedures and/or policies;
  • If a TSA official has accused you of committing a crime; or
  • If you believe a TSA agent and/or TSA activities have violated your legal rights in some way that has caused you to suffer harm.

Some benefits that you can gain from working with TSA lawyers include:

  • Having a lawyer who understands how the TSA operates and thus can defend you against any wrongful criminal accusations;
  • Hiring a lawyer who may have colleagues that represent the TSA with whom they have established good professional relationships; and
  • Retaining a lawyer who is not only familiar with the applicable federal or state laws and legal requirements, but also with TSA policies and procedures as well.

A local team of TSA lawyers, or alternatively, a local government lawyer who has experience in handling matters that involve TSA issues will be able to analyze the facts of your claim and can discuss your legal options. Depending on the circumstances of your case, your lawyer will be able to help you to take legal action against the TSA party who caused you harm and may be able to assist you in recovering a monetary damages award.

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