The doctrine of sovereign immunity dates back quite some time. Essentially, the doctrine states that you cannot sue the government. Fortunately, Congress passed the Federal Tort Claims Act, where the federal government agreed to waive sovereign immunity in certain types of cases, particularly those against federal employees acting within the scope of their employment.
Allowing people to sue the government for torts committed by federal employees is more significant than many people realize. In fact, most people are not aware of the number of times they come in contact with federal government employees or government property. For example, if you share a road with a postal truck, visit a national park or receive treatment at a military hospital, you are being cared for by government personnel or using federal government property. And if you are injured while doing so, the Federal Tort Claims Act allows you to bring a lawsuit against the federal government.
In order to bring a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act, you must be injured by a federal employee that is acting negligently. If an independent contractor hired by the federal government injures you, the Federal Tort Claims Act does not apply, because there is no employer-employee relationship.
The Federal Tort Claims also limits recovery to certain actions. Specifically, the Tort Claims Act excludes eleven common law claims for which a private person would be liable, but the federal government will not, includiong:
· Assault · Battery · False imprisonment · False arrest · Malicious prosecution · Abuse of process · Libel · Slander · Misrepresentation · Deceit · Interference with contractual rights
If you happen to be injured in any of these situations, the government retains its sovereign immunity and you will be unable to file suit.
Finally, the Federal Tort Claims Act prevents certain classes from bringing lawsuits against the federal government. Active-duty servicemembers (and their families) that are injured incident to service and federal government employees that are injured while performing their duties are not permitted to bring a lawsuit against the government, depending on the circumstances of the injury.
It is very important for you to know which federal government agency caused your injury, because the first step required by the Federal Tort Claims Act is filing an administrative claim. You must file a claim with the federal agency responsible for your injury. It is also important to keep track of your injury date, because you only have two years to file a claim. Once you pass that two year mark, you are forever barred from bringing that claim.
Once you make your claim, the agency has six months to respond. They may either admit wrongdoing and pay your damages or they can deny liability. If liability is denied, then you have six months to file a lawsuit.
Your lawsuit must be filed in the United States District Court where you live or where the injury occurred. For example, if you are struck by a postal truck while on vacation, you may choose to file the lawsuit in the District Court where you were struck or the District Court where you live.
Of course, in our area a New York City injury lawyer can help you with all of these issues. These types of legal actions can easily become quite complex, and so it is critical to seek out the help of an experienced injury attorney who can walk you through the process and ensure your rights are respected.