There was a time when the United States government and its employees enjoyed sovereign immunity, which means that they were immune from suit. There was no statutory scheme by which the Federal Government or its employees could be sued for causing harm nor was there any common law remedy.
That all changed in 1949, when Congress enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The FTCA waived the Federal Government’s sovereign immunity, and set up a statutory scheme that allowed citizens to hold the United States government and its employees responsible for certain kinds of claims.
Before you can file a claim, you must first determine whether you can sue the federal government under the FTCA. The FTCA is intended to provide monetary compensation for injury, property loss, or death “caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government.” Since there are limitations and exceptions, below are some general guidelines regarding the claims that can be made under FTCA:
1. Only federal employees can be sued under the FTCA, not independent contractors hired by the federal government. (Independent contractors working for the Federal Government can still be sued for harms they cause under the tort laws of the state where the tort occurred.)2. The negligent or wrongful conduct must have been done within the scope of the federal employee’s employment. This means the employee caused the harm while doing something within the purview of his/her job.3. Generally, only claims of negligence, as opposed to intentional misconduct, are allowed.
4. The claim must be based on and permitted by the law of the state in which the negligence occurred.
The basic steps for filing an FTCA claim are set forth below.
These steps include strict time limits for filing the claim.
I. Filing an Administrative Claim
Before you can file a complaint in federal court, you must first file a claim with the federal agency responsible for the alleged misconduct. This is referred to as the “administrative claim”. The easiest way to prepare the administrative claim is to fill out the standard claim form, known as Standard Form 95 or SF 95. A copy of this form is provided by the federal government at the Department of Justice’s website (www.usdoj.gov), or you may request a copy from the federal agency to which you will be submitting your claim.
II. Administrative Claim Process:
1. You must file within two years
You have two years from the date of your incident to file your administrative claim with the appropriate federal agency. If you are unsure of the exact date when your injury occurred, it is best to file your administrative claim as soon as possible to avoid any chance of it being barred for untimely filing.
2 .Include facts and damages in your claim
You must include in your claim enough facts surrounding your case to allow the federal agency to investigate the merits of your claim. You must also include the exact amount of money damages you are claiming.
3. The agency has six months to respond
Once the federal agency has received your claim, the agency has six months to investigate and decide whether to admit or deny your claim. If the agency denies your claim, you will have to file a lawsuit to pursue the claim further. If the agency admits your claim, the agency will agree to pay some or all of your money damages you demanded, and you may not need to file suit in court
4. You have six months to file a lawsuit
If the federal agency denies your claim, you have six months from the date on which the decision is made to file a lawsuit in federal court. If you do not file within the six month time limit, you risk the chance that your lawsuit will be dismissed for untimely filing, and you will be forever barred from recovery.
5. You don’t have to sue until the agency rules on your claim
If after six months of filing your claim, the federal agency has not responded, you have a choice. You may either move forward with filing your lawsuit or you may elect to wait until the federal agency responds to your claim. Your six-month time limit to file your lawsuit does not begin to run until the agency has responds to your claim.
Filing your Lawsuit in Federal Court
You must file your lawsuit in the United States District Court either where you live or where your incident occurred. You are not permitted to file your lawsuit in a State court, so make sure you have the right court when filing. In fact, the United States District Court requires that you file your complaint online. To file a lawsuit in Maryland, you must go to http://www.mdd.uscourts.gov/. This website provides you with all of the information you will need to file your lawsuit.
When Should You Contact an Attorney?
As with any personal injury claim, it is always best to consult an attorney early on to find out what your rights are, whether you have a claim and its possible worth. Should the damages involved in your case be relatively small, you may choose to represent yourself. However, the FTCA is a highly complex law, and the Court’s rules of procedure can technical. An unrepresented plaintiff may find it difficult to understand all of the arcane legal defenses and exceptions involved in his or her case. So, if your damages are substantial, it is usually advisable to hire an attorney experienced in filing lawsuits under the FTCA.