The traditional legal principle, known as sovereign immunity, was that you could not sue the government for monetary damages. The reason for this is clear once you think about it.
If you successfully hold the government liable for money damages, the money used to pay you will ultimately come out of taxpayers’ pockets. If you sue the government, in other words, you are suing all of its taxpayers, perhaps including yourself.
In modern times, however, governments have modified this principle to allow certain kinds of lawsuits against governments, including most personal injury claims. If these lawsuits were impossible, you probably could not even negotiate a private settlement with the government because without the threat of a courtroom lawsuit, you would have no bargaining power. Unique restrictions apply to personal injury lawsuits against a government.
Federal Government Tort Claims
Congress passed the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) in 1946. This Act allows you to sue the federal government, but it does not apply to the California government (see below for how the California state government handles personal injury claims).
The federal government allows you to file a personal injury lawsuit against it under the following circumstances:
- A federal government employee injured you;
- The employee was acting within the scope of their duties at the time of the injury;
- The employee was acting wrongfully; and
- The employee’s wrongful act caused you harm.
The conditions are the same conditions that apply to suing the employer of a non-government employee.
Examples of Possible Tort Claims Against the Government
Following are some everyday examples of situations that might give rise to a personal injury claim against the government:
- A US Postal Service driver causes a car accident that injures you. Note that you can also file a claim for damage to your car or other property.
- You fall down a flight of stairs in a government office due to unnecessarily slippery stairs.
- A doctor working for the federal government harms you through medical malpractice.
These are only a few of many different types of claims that might arise against the federal government under the FTCA.
The “Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies” Requirement
Under most circumstances, you can take a private party directly to court over a personal injury claim. If you are suing the federal government, however, the rules are different. You must “exhaust your administrative remedies” before filing a lawsuit. This means you must file an administrative claim against the government agency you believe is liable for your injuries.
If you file an administrative claim against the government and are dissatisfied with the outcome, you will remain ineligible to file a lawsuit until you appeal as far as the system will allow you to. Only at that point will you have exhausted your administrative remedies. Once you do, you can file a courtroom lawsuit against the government.
Administrative Procedure and Deadlines
When filing an administrative claim against the federal government, remember the following critical procedural requirements:
- You must file your claim with the appropriate government agency within two years after the accident that injured you (in most cases);
- Your claim must include all relevant facts and demand a specific dollar amount. A personal injury lawyer with experience filing claims against the government can draft this document for you.
- The agency must respond to your claim within six months.
- After the agency responds, you have six more months after the agency notifies you of its decision to file a lawsuit. If you fail to file a lawsuit during that time, your claim will expire, and you will no longer be able to enforce it.
- Note that your six-month time clock for filing a lawsuit doesn’t begin running until the agency issues you a final response. As long as they fail to do so, you have until six months after whenever they do respond to file a lawsuit.
California (and Local) Tort Claims
The California Tort Claims Act sets conditions for filing a lawsuit against the State of California that are very similar to the restrictions on filing a lawsuit against the federal government. Remember that in California and other states, individual municipalities are treated as subdivisions of the state, similar to a state agency such as the California DMV. You would sue a municipality under the rules established by the California Tort Claims Act.
Hire a Lawyer If You Plan To Sue the Government
Claims against the government are special kinds of claims. It is not a good idea to attempt to file one on your own. You need not only a personal injury lawyer but a personal injury lawyer with experience resolving claims against the government. Contact the law firm of M&Y Personal Injury Lawyers or call (877) 300-4535 for legal help.