Suing the federal government in a personal injury case is not nearly as simple as suing a private citizen. Under a very old common law doctrine called “sovereign immunity,” you cannot sue the government unless it expressly allows itself to be sued.
The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) is a fairly complicated federal law that lays out exactly when and how you can bring tort lawsuits against a federal government entity or a federal employee (for something that happened within the scope of their employment).
Here are just 2 common examples of when you might encounter the FTCA in a personal injury context. First, a large percentage of hospitals around the country are funded by the federal government. Anytime you have a medical malpractice case against a hospital that is federally funded you have to bring that malpractice claim under the FTCA. Second, let's say you get rear-ended by a post office delivery truck and suffer serious injuries. Your auto accident claim against the mail carrier will fall under the FTCA.Application of the FTCA
The starting point for any FTCA analysis is whether the FTCA applies to your case in the first place. The FTCA is only applicable to tort claims in which the prospective defendant is either a branch or entity of the federal government or an employee of a branch or entity of the federal government (provided the alleged wrongdoing occurred within the scope of their employment).
Government contractors and the agents and employees of government contractors are NOT covered by the FTCA. Also, if the defendant is a government employee the FTCA does not apply if the negligent actions occur outside the scope of their employment. So if the government employee rear-ends you on their commute home, the FTCA is not applicable. Also, the FTCA only covers negligent actions. Intentional conduct by a federal government employee is not subject to the FTCA. So if a government employee physically assaults someone the claim falls outside the FTCA. There are limited exceptions to this for intentional misconduct committed by federal law enforcement officers.FTCA Claim Procedure
If you have a tort claim that is covered by the FTCA you will need to carefully follow the procedural and notice requirements outlined in the FTCA. The first step in bringing a claim under the FTCA is to file an administrative claim. The administrative claim must be filed with the government branch or entity that is responsible for the alleged negligence. So if you get rear-ended by a post office truck, you would file your administrative claim with the U.S. Postal Service. There is a standard FTCA claim form available for use in submitting administrative claims.
This FTCA administrative claim should be filed as soon as possible. The FTCA requires administrative claims to be filed within 2 years of the date of the alleged incident, but we strongly recommend filing within 1 year. Once your administrative claim is filed, the government entity has a 6-month time frame to formally respond to your claim. They can either accept your claim and agree to pay a certain amount in damaged. Or they can reject your claim and refuse to pay any damaged. If your claim is rejected, you have only 6 months to file a lawsuit against the government entity.
Lawsuits under the FTCA must be filed in the United States District Court for your home state or for the state where the alleged incident occurred. Federal government entities can not be sued in state court.FTCA Settlements and Verdicts
Below are summaries of recent verdicts and/or reported settlements in cases arising under the FTCA.
- Mouton v. United States (Louisiana 2020) $169,756 Verdict: An FAA-owned sedan struck a man’s vehicle at an intersection causing soft-tissue neck injury, a concussion, and the aggravation of a pre-existing spinal injury. The man underwent steroid injections for treatment. He also claimed that he would need to undergo future surgery for the treatment of his aggravated spinal injury. The claim was brought under the FTCA. The FAA contested the man’s injuries, arguing that he only suffered mild symptoms and that his symptoms were related to a previous spinal injury.
- Godfrey v. United States (North Carolina 2020) $1,000,000 Settlement: A 28-year-old woman went to a federal clinic after with breathing problems, coughing, nausea, vomiting, and congestion. Hours after being discharged home, the woman’s husband found her unresponsive and she died shortly after. Her cause of death was a septic shock that was caused by a tension empyema. The woman’s husband made a wrongful death claim against the federal government. He alleged that the federal clinic staff’s failure to properly evaluate and diagnose the woman’s condition caused her death. This case settled for $1,000,000.
- Jackson v. United States (Missouri 2019) $5,700,000 Verdict: 56-year-old navy veteran sued the Department of Veterans Affairs under the FTCA. They claimed that the VA staff failed to timely diagnose his prostate cancer. The couple argued that had he been diagnosed earlier; he would have only needed to undergo a prostatectomy. Instead, the man required hormone ablation therapy and salvage radiation. He also claimed that he now suffered from erectile dysfunction, incontinence, and a shortened life expectancy. A federal judge awarded $5,700,000.
- Brown v. United States (Mississippi 2019) $3,111,135 Verdict: A veteran underwent a cholecystectomy at a VA hospital. During the procedure, the physician pierced the man’s diaphragm. Following the procedure, the man suffered liver abscesses, deep vein thrombosis to his lower extremities, a lung embolism, and intracranial bleeding.
- Carshall v. United States (Oklahoma 2019) $7,500,000 Settlement: This is a birth injury malpractice claim against a tribal hospital. Mother was induced via Pitocin and the fetal heart monitor showed abnormal results. However, the hospital staff failed to modify Pitocin doses accordingly. As a result, excessive uterine activity occurred, causing fetal distress that resulted in hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. About 60 hours later, the baby was born with metabolic acidosis. He ultimately developed spastic quadriplegia and cerebral palsy. This case settled for $7,500,000.
- Huntley v. United States (Michigan 2018) $500,000 Settlement. A man presented to a federally funded clinic, complaining of breathing difficulties, severe chest pain, sleeping problems, heartburn, and neck and back pressure. He underwent an X-ray and EKG. Both were interpreted as normal. Hwas diagnosed with acid reflux. Five days later, the man died from a heart attack. His family brought an FTCA claim alleging that a cardiology consultation would have led to a heart catheterization and prevented his death. This case settled for $500,000.
- Marrero v. United States (Hawaii 2016) $4,200,000 Settlement. While being sedated at a federal clinic. a 32-year-old man lost consciousness and died from anoxia. His wife sued under the FTCA. She claimed that the physician should not have sedated him without an anesthesiologist because he was overweight and suffered from a restricted airway. The federal government’s counsel admitted liability. This case settled for $4,200,000.
If you have a potential personal injury against a federal government employee or entity, Miller & Zois can help get you maximum compensation and ensure that you comply with the notice and procedural requirements of the FTCA. Contact us today about your FTCA claim.