The Federal Tort Claims Act is an important federal law. It provides a limited waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity1 allowing for lawsuits by persons injured by commonplace negligence of government employees.2 The doctrine of sovereign immunity provides that a sovereign state can be sued when its legislative branch gives permission to do so. The FTCA does that for limited negligence acts but it does not provide a remedy for those whose claims arise in intentional torts including strict liability, or from a myriad of other exceptions that the FTCA details.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees a citizen’s right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Between 1920 and 1946, there were more than 30 bills of financial remedies heard by Congress in the “private bill” system. Tiring of the way these private citizen claims clogged their calendars, Congress finally enacted the FTCA on August 2, 1946 as part of the Legislative Reorganization Act.
These six elements of a valid claim are:
Federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over claims that do have these six elements. However, the government actor’s actions must be based on negligence and not be an intentional tort or be based on a theory of strict liability. Those types of claims are ineligible to be brought under the FTCA.
Claims against federal contractors do not fall under the FTCA unless the claim is based on a “nondelegable” duty. The actions of the federal employees must be within the scope of their official duties. It also does not cover torts committed by District of Columbia employees or territorial employees.
Because the tort is based on state law, any defense available under state law is also available to the federal employee defendant as a private person. That includes contributory negligence, comparative negligence, superseding cause, assumption of risk, recreational use statutes, and the statutory employee doctrine.
Other important points to know about the FTCA are that the law of the state where the tort has occurred or where the plaintiff is located is applied to the analysis of claim. So if the actions of a federal employee located in Montana causes the negligent act, the laws of Montana would be applied in the Montana federal court. If the plaintiff lives in Colorado, an individual may choose to file in Colorado federal court applying Colorado state law.
Congress has excluded claims arising incident to military service from the FTCA since they are covered by other legislative acts.
Before filing in federal district court, people must exhaust their administrative remedies first by filing a written claim with the agency that they believe has wronged them. The claim must state with specificity the monetary damages and identify the conduct that caused the damage. This must take place before the two-year statute of limitations expires of when the tort occurred. An agency is given six months to respond. If the federal agency doesn’t respond after six months, then a person may file their claim in federal court.
If the agency does respond and denies the claim, an aggrieved party has six months after denial of the claim to file in federal district court.
It’s critical to file the claim in the right court. FTCA claims may only be heard in the federal district court either where plaintiff resides or where the act or omission occurred.
If you have been wronged by the actions of a federal employee, the attorneys at Whitcomb, Selinsky Law PC would love to share their expertise with you. Please call (303) 543-1958.