FEDERAL TORT CLAIMS ACT (FTCA)
A large part of my practice involves bringing claims and lawsuits for damages on behalf of those injured by the negligent conduct of another, but what happens when the negligent party is an employee of the federal government?
Early in my legal career I represented a veteran who claimed injuries due to the misdiagnosis of a medical condition by a physician employed by a Veteran’s Administration Hospital. It was the first of many experiences in bringing a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 USC 2671 et seq. The FTCA is a federal law that permits someone injured by the negligent conduct of a federal employee to bring a claim against the agency that employs the individual responsible for the injury, and to ultimately file suit in federal court against the United States for those injuries. The Act, first enacted in 1946, abrogates the sovereign immunity of the federal government, and sets up a statutory process to bring an injury claim. It is comprised of a complex series of laws that establish federal procedural rules that permit claims based on substantive state law rights of action
The FTCA is the exclusive remedy for pursuing claims against employees of federal agencies that are covered by the Act, and it is critically important for an early determination of its applicability any time an injury occurs due to the conduct of a federal employee. Unlike normal tort claims against private parties, the FTCA sets forth a claims process with the applicable federal agency where the injured party or representative presents the claim on a designated form (SF 95). The claim must be presented within two years from the date of the incident giving rise to the claim, and must include a specific dollar amount of the damages that are sought. Once the claim is received, the agency will investigate the claim, and can either attempt to resolve the claim, or it can deny the claim. If the claim is denied, the injured party will then have six months from the date of denial to bring suit in federal court. Both the two year time limit to file the claim, and the six month time limit to file suit after a denial act as a statute of limitations, and the failure to comply with the time limits will preclude any recovery of damages for the injury. Also, unlike claims against private parties, there is no right to a jury trial in claims brought pursuant to the FTCA. Therefore, if the claim is not resolved at the agency level, and suit is brought, the case is heard by a federal judge and any damage award is limited by the damages initially demanded in the claim form (SF 95)
The Act covers medical malpractice claims as a result of negligent treatment by medical professionals at federal medical facilities; motor vehicle claims due to negligence of federal agency employees while operating government vehicles, or while engaged in work related tasks; slip, trip and fall claims on properties under the control of federal agencies; and many other tort claims which give rise to causes of action under the laws of the state where the negligent conduct occurs.
If you or a loved one have suffered injuries as a result of the negligent conduct of a federal employee, you should immediately consult with an attorney who is familiar with the FTCA in order to properly investigate the claim and preserve your rights.