In most states, an individual who is injured by an employee's negligent acts can generally sue the employer, if the negligent act was committed in the course of employment duties. Until 1946, however, "governmental immunity" prohibited individuals from suing the U.S. government for injuries committed by federal government employees. This changed with the enactment of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) that year.
FTCA Claim Rights
The FTCA sets forth a procedure for recovery on claims made for damages to property, loss of property, personal injury, or death that are caused by the negligent conduct or omission of a government employee acting within the scope of her office or employment, if a similarly situated employer would be liable under the local laws.
Filing an Administrative Claim
Prior to filing any lawsuit, an administrative claim must be filed with the government agency that employs the person causing the injury or damages (Internal Revenue Service, Department of Justice, U.S. Navy, NASA, etc.).
Agency claims procedures vary, as do the required claim forms (agencies may have their own forms), and the information and documents that must be submitted. A claim must be filed with the agency within two years of knowledge of the negligence (or when the negligence should have been discovered). Required information and documents may include:
- A "sum certain," i.e., the specific dollar amount claimed; a claim may be rejected for failure to specify an exact dollar amount.
- Particulars about the incident (date, place, time, explanation of events, etc.)
- List of witnesses, date of claim, and claimant's address and signature
- Medical bills, written evaluations by physicians, prognoses and possible future treatment for personal injury claims
- Documentation of lost wages
- Death certificate for a decedent (for a wrongful death claim), plus description of occupation, salary etc., bills for funeral and burial, and evidence of support received by the claimant from the decedent
- Proof of ownership, evidence of purchase, estimates for repair costs and/or receipts for repairs already made, etc. for property damage claims
Investigation and Evaluation of the Claim
Once the claim has been submitted, the agency has six months to evaluate and investigate the claim. Procedures for investigation vary among agencies and also vary with respect to the amount of the claim. Larger claims frequently require evaluation and review by senior personnel.
The claim may be accepted or rejected (in whole or in part) and a settlement offered, typically in writing. If the claimant agrees to the settlement amount, he will be paid through the agency.
If the claim is rejected, in whole or in part, or if the claimant is dissatisfied with the result, he may either appeal through the agency or immediately file suit in federal court. A lawsuit must be initiated within six months of the rejection, unless it has been appealed through the agency. In other words, the six month time limit does not run while an appeal is being considered. If the agency does not respond within six months of submission, the claim is deemed rejected and the claimant may immediately file suit in federal court.
Failure to Comply with FTCA Procedure
The claimant may be barred from recovery, from both the individual employee and the U.S. government, if he fails to comply with the administrative claim procedure. If the claim is not brought (and the lawsuit not filed) within the FTCA time limits, the right to recovery may also be lost. Furthermore, failure to pursue the administrative claim can bar a later lawsuit.
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