Can You Sue the Government for Personal Injury Claims?
Suing the government for personal injury claims can be a complex process, but it may be possible depending on the circumstances of your case. This article provides an overview of how to file injury claims against federal, state, and local government agencies.
When you are injured due to the negligence or wrongful actions of a government employee or agency, you may have a right to compensation. However, sovereign immunity laws often protect government entities from lawsuits. The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) provides a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, allowing you to sue the federal government in certain situations.
This article outlines key steps for filing injury claims against the government, the FTCA process, the types of claims covered, the statute of limitations, and tips for building your case. Read on to learn more about whether you can sue the government if you have suffered personal injuries.
Can You File a Lawsuit Against the Government for Injuries?
In general, you can file a lawsuit against the government seeking compensation for personal injuries in these situations:
- You were injured due to negligence or wrongdoing by a federal government employee or agency. This allows you to file a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
- A state, county, or city government entity injured you due to negligence or breach of duty. Laws vary by state, but many allow tort claims against local governments.
- Certain federal laws authorize lawsuits against government agencies for injuries in specific situations, such as medical malpractice claims against VA hospitals.
However, governments have sovereign immunity protecting most agencies from lawsuits. Trying to sue the federal government outside the FTCA or suing a state or local government when tort claims are not allowed in that jurisdiction will likely lead to dismissal based on immunity.
Overview of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA)
The FTCA provides a limited waiver of sovereign immunity for tort claims against the federal government. This allows you to file a lawsuit against the U.S. for personal injury or property damage caused by the negligent or wrongful act of a federal employee acting within the scope of employment.
Key things to know about FTCA claims:
- Only allows claims based on state tort law, not federal or constitutional law. The government is liable to the same extent a private party would be under state law.
- Applies to negligence or wrongdoing by federal employees. Does not allow strict liability claims without negligence.
- Covers personal injury or property damage caused by the government. Does not allow claims for breach of contract.
- Requires filing an administrative claim with the agency first before going to federal court.
- Has strict deadlines. Must file an administrative claim within 2 years of injury and file a lawsuit within 6 months of the agency’s decision.
What Types of Injury Claims Can You Bring Under the FTCA?
Some examples of common FTCA claims for personal injury or property damage include:
- Motor vehicle accidents – Crashes caused by postal service or other federal vehicles.
- Medical malpractice – Negligent treatment at a VA hospital or clinic.
- Dangerous conditions – Injuries on federal property due to unsafe premises.
- Federal law enforcement – Excessive force, false arrest/imprisonment, or abuse of process by federal officers.
The key is showing that a federal employee’s negligent or wrongful actions directly caused your injuries. Strict liability claims that do not involve negligence by a government employee are not allowed under the FTCA.
Steps for Filing an Injury Claim Against the Government
Follow these key steps if you want to file a claim against the federal, state, or local government for personal injury compensation:
1. Determine the Appropriate Defendant
- For federal claims, name the United States as a defendant. Do not name the federal agency or employee.
- For state claims, name the appropriate state government entity as a defendant. This is often the state agency involved.
- For local claims, name the local government body, such as the city, county, or municipality.
2. File an Administrative Claim
Before filing a lawsuit under the FTCA, you must first file an administrative claim with the federal agency involved. This is done using Standard Form 95. The agency will investigate and respond with a decision.
3. Comply with Notice of Claim Requirements
Many states and local laws require filing a notice of claim before suing the government. Check your state’s tort claims act for specific requirements.
4. File the Lawsuit Within the Statute of Limitations
For FTCA claims, you must file within 6 months of the agency’s decision on your administrative claim. State and local deadlines vary but are often 6-12 months.
5. Prove Your Case Meets Requirements to Sue Government
Show that the government employee or entity owed you a duty of care breached this duty through negligence, and directly caused your damages. Proving negligence and causation is key.
Tips for Building Your Injury Claim Against the Government
- Act quickly to meet deadlines – Government claims often have short statutes of limitation.
- Gather evidence like medical records, witness statements, bills, and photos documenting your injuries.
- Prove negligence by showing the government entity failed to use reasonable care and did not act as a prudent person would.
- Establish causation between the breach of duty and your injuries/damages.
- Follow all procedural rules for filing administrative claims and lawsuits. Missing deadlines can ruin your case.
- Consult an experienced attorney for help navigating the complex claims process and proving your case.
Can You Sue the Government for Emotional Distress?
The FTCA bars claim for emotional distress or mental anguish not directly tied to physical injury. However, some states allow claims against local governments for negligent infliction of emotional distress. An attorney can advise if mental anguish damages may be possible in your case under state law.
Is It Possible to Sue a State Government Agency?
State governments have sovereign immunity, but many states have passed tort claims acts allowing lawsuits against state agencies or employees in limited circumstances. Typically, this involves filing a notice of claim within a short deadline and then filing suit in state court. The laws vary widely by state, so consult a local attorney to determine if you can pursue a claim.
When is the Government Immune from Injury Lawsuits?
Some examples of when the government has immunity include:
- Intentional torts by government employees, like assault and battery.
- Strict liability claims without negligence, such as design defects.
- Suing federal agencies or employees directly instead of the United States.
- Constitutional and federal statutory violations.
- Claims barred by the discretionary function exception.
- Lawsuits against states where tort claims acts do not provide a waiver of immunity.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I file an injury claim against the federal government?
You can file an injury claim against the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). First, you must file an administrative claim by submitting a Standard Form 95 or written demand to the federal agency whose employee was negligent. This gives the agency a chance to settle your claim before going to court. If the agency denies your claim or doesn’t respond within 6 months, you can then file a lawsuit against the federal government in federal court. Make sure to file your administrative claim within 2 years of the injury and file the lawsuit within 6 months of the denial.
What types of injury claims can I make against the government?
You can potentially make personal injury claims against the government for situations like car accidents with government vehicles, slips and falls on government property, medical malpractice at a VA hospital, injuries caused by law enforcement, and more. Common claims include negligence, dangerous conditions, and intentional torts. Not all government entities can be sued, but you may be able to sue federal agencies, the postal service, state agencies, cities/counties, public universities, and more under the FTCA or related state laws.
How do I prove negligence for an injury claim against the government?
To prove negligence in an injury claim against the government, you must show that the government owed you a duty of care, breached that duty through a negligent act or omission, and directly caused your injury and damages. Helpful evidence can include accident reports, medical records, witness statements, expert testimony on proper standards of care, and more. It’s also important to show how a reasonable government employee would have acted differently to prevent the accident.
Are there damages caps on injury claims against the government?
Yes, there are liability caps on damages for injury claims against the federal government under the FTCA. There is no cap on economic damages like medical bills or lost wages. However, non-economic damages like pain and suffering are limited to $250,000 per person. State laws also often cap damages in claims against state/local governments. So, potential damages awards are lower than in private personal injury lawsuits.
When should I hire a personal injury attorney for a claim against the government?
It’s highly recommended to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney if you have a potential injury claim against any government entity. There are strict deadlines and complex laws involved. An attorney can advise if you have a valid case, determine the best defendants, file the administrative claim properly, negotiate a settlement, and litigate your case in court if needed. They can also help maximize your compensation. Don’t wait to contact an attorney after an injury caused by the negligence of a government employee or agency.
Key Takeaways: Suing the Government for Personal Injuries
- You may be able to sue the federal government under the FTCA or file a claim against a state/local entity if allowed by that jurisdiction’s laws.
- FTCA claims must involve negligence by a federal employee, causing personal injury or property damage.
- Deadlines are strict for filing administrative claims and lawsuits against the government.
- Proving the government entity or employee owed you a duty of care and breached it through negligence is critical.
- An experienced San Diego personal injury attorney can advise if you have a valid claim against the government and assist with the complex filing process.
- Sovereign immunity limits the situations where injury claims against the government are permitted. Seek legal advice to determine if the government is liable for compensation in your specific case.