Federal Tort Claims Act

Every year thousands of New Mexicans receive medical care at military base facilities, share the road with postal trucks and visit national parks. If any of these people suffer personal injuries at the hands of a federal employee, they may be able to  bring a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

In the past, you were not permitted to sue the government under the theory of “sovereign immunity.” Fortunately, the Federal Tort Claims Act allows certain kinds of lawsuits against the federal government and federal employees acting within the scope of their employment.

The Federal Tort Claims Act is intended to provide an avenue to recovery for injury, property loss or wrongful death caused by the wrongful act or omission of any employee of the federal government.

Limitations to Liability

One of the first requirements to bring a lawsuit against the federal government is that the negligent party is a federal employee. If there is no employer-employee relationship, you will not be able to bring a lawsuit under the Act. For example, an independent contractor hired by the government will not result in an employer-employee relationship. Without the required relationship, there is no government liability.

The Federal Tort Claims Act does have limits to recovery. The Act specifically excludes a number of common law claims for which a private person would be liable.  These include: Assault, Battery, False imprisonment, False arrest, Malicious prosecution, Abuse of process, Libel/Slander, Misrepresentation, Deceit and Interference with contractual rights.

If you are injured in any of these particular situations, you will not be able to file suit against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The Act also excludes several classes of plaintiffs, including:

  • Active-duty servicemembers and their families injured incident to service
  • Federal employees injured while performing their duties

Whether a service member or federal employee is barred again depends primarily on the circumstances of the injury.

Administrative Claims

Once it is established that the government may be liable, you must file an administrative claim with the federal agency responsible for the alleged misconduct. For example, if you are struck by a mail delivery truck, you would file your claim with the U.S. Postal Service.

In the administrative process, you have two years to bring your claim or it will be barred. The agency then has six months to respond, where they can admit wrongdoing and pay you or deny liability. If the agency denies liability, then you have six months to file a lawsuit.

It is important to note that the six month time period only begins once the agency renders a decision; if they do not make a decision then the clock does not start. This process is often referred to as “exhausting your administrative remedies.”

Federal District Court

You must file your lawsuit in the United States District Court where you live or where the incident occurred. For example, if your claim involved an accident at a national park, you have the option of filing your lawsuit in the federal court where you live or where the national park is located.

Your district court lawsuit cannot be greater than the administrative claim, unless you present newly discovered evidence that adds to the value of the injury.

Claims against the federal government are complex.  It is highly advisable to seek the guidance of an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible after the incident.  The two year deadline on filing claims is fairly short.  It is also very serious and rigid.  If you miss the deadline, your claim is barred completely.

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