Federal Injury Claims

While most people who suffer a personal injury do so in private businesses or they are hurt in car accidents, due to careless drivers. But what happens when the negligent person or entity is the federal government? Well, it’s not quite as easy as just filing an insurance claim or filing suit in your local county courthouse. Instead, the federal government, as a general rule, enjoys “sovereign immunity” from lawsuits. The only way around this is you may sue the federal government only when the federal government “consents” to it.  Now, if this sounds funny to you, it’s because it is a rare concept to discuss in the personal injury world. But it’s for good reason. The federal government has already consented to being sued in many ways through a federal statute called the “Federal Tort Claims Act” (FTCA).  Under Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations, the federal government has promulgated specific procedures and rules for how a private citizen may file a claim for injuries caused by the government.  Although there is far too much to include here, the general procedure is as follows:

Step 1 – Can the Government be Sued? Not right away. Step one is determining whether the at-fault or liable party is indeed the federal government. After all, private contractors and private-sector companies may work on government matters and even at times wear or use federal property in performing their jobs. Consider rural mail carriers and defense contractors. So, one cannot automatically assume that an FTCA claim is warranted.

Step 2 – Filing Your Notice on Time. Next, if you can verify that it was indeed a government agent or agency responsible for the injuries, then you must file the appropriate notice with the correct department of that agency. You must file a NOTICE OF CLAIM using a Form SF-95. Here is a sample SF-95 for injuries at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which should provide a general idea of what is expected. Claims must be on the proper form and submitted within 2 years of the injury date.  This notice can always be amended later after the deadline, so if you believe that you may have injuries caused by a federal agency, it is always better to file the notice right away, lay out a general statement of the injuries and why you feel the government caused them, and demand a specific amount of money. Failure to meet any of these steps will result in denial and loss of your claim.

Step 3 – File Suit if No Resolution of Claim. Finally, the government is permitted 6 months to review your claim notice and make a decision on that claim. The agency may either offer to settle by sending you a written offer, deny your claim altogether, or fail to respond. If an offer is made, you may negotiate but, in most cases, the settlement offer will be made on the strength of the settlement package that was submitted with the SF-95, which is why having a good lawyer makes a big difference. If the agency denies your claim or fails to respond in 6 months, you then have a right to file suit in federal district court for the region where the injury occurred.

Step 4 – Filing Suit & Representation. Not all attorneys are licensed to practice in federal court. So, you will want to make sure you are working with an attorney who is licensed in your state as well as federal courts. Once a lawsuit is filed, these cases tend to take upwards of 2-3 years to resolve and can be full of complex proceedings. It is very unwise to handle your own FTCA claim.

Final Considerations About FTCA Claims

Each time you amend your notice of claim (SF-95), you trigger a new 6-month response time from the agency. There are more federal agencies that one would mention in a single webpage, but in our experience, the ones we encounter the most are as follows:

  • Department of Veterans Affairs. Every year, many veterans are injured by medical malpractice at VA facilities, abuse or neglect at veterans nursing homes, and even slip and fall injuries at VA offices and other facilities.
  • US Postal Service. Postal carriers cause a lot of wrecks. And while most post office employees are quite hard working and diligent, there are plenty of times when a mail carrier or USPS truck driver has caused serious injuries.
  • National Park Service. People don’t generally think of the National Park Service, but improperly maintained tourist attractions often fall within the jurisdiction of NPS, meaning you may be able to obtain compensation if you are hurt in a national park. Think of all the national monuments around the country, as well as national cemeteries. It can sometimes be challenging to identify which government bureaucracy is responsible, which is yet another reason to hire an attorney.
  • Social Security Offices and Other Government Buildings. It may be strange to think of filing suit against the Social Security Administration or Department of Interior, but if you suffer serious and permanent injuries in a government facility, regardless of the agency or department, you may indeed have a right to be compensated for those injuries. You’ll just have to be sure you find the correct entity to serve, file proper notice on time, and build a strong case so the agency’s defense attorneys are aware that if they do not pay out, a lawsuit will be filed, and the agency may still be forced to pay. It is this attorney leverage that often results in swift settlements for fair amounts.

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