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What Happens if I am Injured by a Government Employee?

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Young Male AttorneyMost people are aware that an accident can happen at any time and at any place. While staying vigilant can help prevent certain incidents from occurring, the course of a case can change depending on who is responsible for the injury. For example, a case against a homeowner would be different from a case against an employee of a business. Then, there is the case of a person injured by a government employee, such as a public transit operator or a postal carrier. While the government is protected from most civil claims, the law does provide a way for victims to bring suit against the government in order to recover damages.

Federal Tort Law

Generally, most claims against the government are barred under the doctrine of “sovereign immunity.” While the government is protected from personal suits under this doctrine, there are laws that help citizens bypass the issue of sovereign immunity. With regards to negligent or tortious action by government agencies or government employees, the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allows persons who have been injured by government employees to sue the government, under certain conditions. While the U.S. government may be sued in the same manner as any private entity under the FTCA, there are a few limitations imposed. For example, under the FTCA, a plaintiff will not be able to claim any interest incurred before the judgment, and will not be able to obtain punitive damages.

Prerequisites

While the FTCA does allow ordinary citizens to sue the government, or government officials, certain requirements must be met in order for a claim to fall under the FTCA. The following are just a few basic requirements that must be present in order for a claim to be eligible:

-Employee Status: The difference between employee and independent contractor can be a fine one at times. Under the FTCA, in order to hold the government liable for an employee’s actions, that person must be an employee. If the person responsible for the accident or injuries is an independent contractor, then the victim will be barred from bringing action against the government.

-Scope of Employment: In general, most tort laws that allow victims to sue the employers who have injured them require the employee to be engaged in the business of the employer at the time of the injury. The FTCA is no different. This requirement exists in order to protect employers from employees who act recklessly on their own time. Interestingly enough, determining when an employee is engaged in the business of his employer isn’t as easy as looking to see when they were on the clock. Even slight detours to engage in personal business can destroy the employee’s work connection, precluding the victim from suing the employer.

-Basis for the claim: In addition to these requirements, the claim must also be brought under the laws of the state. Therefore, if the state allows plaintiffs to sue for a type of tort, then individuals may also sue the government in those circumstances. This can be somewhat problematic for victims of personal injury, since the same injury can be treated differently depending on the jurisdiction.

Filing Your Case

Once you have decided to file your case, the next step that needs to be taken is to figure out where you will file. This is important because, unlike with an ordinary civil law case, where you would file a claim with the court, under the FTCA, persons injured by the government or government employees must file a claim with the responsible agency. This means that if you were injured by the negligence of an employee of the FBI, you wouldn’t be able to successfully bring a claim against them through any other agency or court.

While there is no required form or legal process for filing a complaint with the court, it is still recommended that plaintiffs fill out a Standard Form 95 (SF95) from the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) website. The forms provided by the DOJ will generally be sufficient to help you provide the necessary information you need to prove your case.

Even though there are no strict rules on how you can file a claim, there are rules that regulate the process of an FTCA claim against the government. First, a party has 2 years to file a claim with the appropriate government agency. As a side note, in personal injury cases, it is always important to file as soon as possible, since the exact date of injury or the problems suffered from may be at issue.

Once you have submitted your claim, the government agency then has six months to respond. After the government agency’s response has been submitted, you may have the option of suing the government to recover any damages you suffered as a result, but only if the government agency refused to admit your claim. Interestingly enough, if the agency has not made a ruling on a claim within six months, victims then have the option to either wait for the government agency to rule on your claim, or you can go straight to court.

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