What if you get in a car accident with a U.S. Marshal, or slip and fall on the White House steps? Your only way to get compensated for these injuries is to file a lawsuit against the federal government, which is a bit trickier that filing a lawsuit against your neighbor or a local business.
Typically, you can’t sue the federal government unless it gives you permission to do so. The circumstances under which you can sue the federal government are governed by the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). So, before filing any lawsuit against the federal government, you’ll first have to find out whether the FTCA allows you to file the lawsuit. If not, then you probably cannot sue the federal government for your damages.
Under the FTCA, the federal government can be liable for damages caused by a federal employee who acts – or fails to act – negligently or wrongfully. However, the FTCA contains several other limitations on claims, such as strict timelines for bringing claims and various administrative filing requirements. Additionally, the FTCA only permits a lawsuit when the harm caused to you was caused by a federal employee, not an independent contractor, who was acting within the scope of his or her employment, resulting in damages that could be remedied under the law of the state in which they occurred.
If you determine that you can pursue a lawsuit under the FTCA requirements, your next step is to strictly follow the procedures set forth in the FTCA for filing such a claim. Generally, you must file your claim with the federal government agency that employs the person who caused your damages within two years of the date that the incident occurred. There is a standard federal government form, or Standard Form 95 (“SF 95”), that you can fill out in order to present your claim to the agency. While you don’t have to use SF 95, using it will ensure that you include all of the information required to properly make your claim.
Once you have submitted your claim to the agency, it has six months to decide whether to deny your claim or admit your claim. If the agency admits your claim and agrees to pay you an amount of damages that is acceptable to you, you won’t have to file a lawsuit. If the agency denies your claim, however, or refuses to pay the amount of damages that you have claimed, you will have to file a lawsuit within six months of the date on which the agency decision is mailed to you.
Lawsuits against the federal government are filed in the U.S. District Court in the location where you live, or where the incident occurred. You can only ask for the same amount of damages that you asked for in the claim that you filed with the agency, and you cannot ask for punitive damages under the FTCA.
As is the case with any sort of personal injury claim, if you are claiming that the federal government caused you substantial damages, it is always smart to consult an attorney. Particularly since the FTCA is a complex law with many requirements and deadlines, an attorney can be helpful in navigating through such a lawsuit.