Can I sue the Federal Government?
In this post, I examine the issue of personal injury lawsuits against the federal government. This has come up many times in my years of practice. Here are some common scenarios:
- I got in a car accident with a postal truck.
- I slipped and fell in a federal building.
- I was the victim of medical malpractice at a federal hospital.
- I was falsely arrested and beaten up by federal agents.
Can I sue the federal government?
The answer is yes. Here’s some history. Up until 1948, the United States Government was immune from lawsuits due to a legal concept called “sovereign immunity.” This idea stems from our Anglo-American legal traditions and essentially kept the sovereign, which really meant the King, from being sued by the common people.
While some practitioners in the American legal community had been pushing for the repeal of this rule for years, the final straw came on July 28, 1945, when a United States Army Plane accidentally crashed into the Empire State Building killing 14 innocent civilians. The families of the survivors attempted to sue the federal government, but their claims were barred due to sovereign immunity. The massive public outcry over the families’ inability to hold the government accountable pushed congress into enacting the Federal Tort Claims Act. This waived sovereign immunity, and for the first time allowed people to sue the Federal Government.
While this act was unprecedented and an enormous step in the right direction towards justice and civil rights, there are several limitations that are strongly in favor of the government. The FTCA has very strict pleading requirements, along with a draconian statute of limitations.
In addition, while the 7th Amendment to the United States Constitution grants the right to a trial by jury in civil lawsuits. This does not apply to the Federal Tort Claims Act. A trial in an FTCA case will be heard by a judge. Juries generally give higher monetary awards than judges. Also keep in mind that Federal judges are employed by the Federal Government. Imagine a situation where someone slipped and fell at a grocery store, sued the grocery store, and the judge on the case was a part time employee of the grocery store. You get the picture.
Even with the limitations, the FTCA allows regular people who have been harmed by the Federal government to sue to obtain just compensation, and have their day in court. FTCA cases are complex and should be handled by a practitioner who is admitted to practice in Federal Court and who has experience with the law’s complex procedures. If you have been injured and believe the federal government is responsible, please call me at 212-363-HURT. 212-363-4878.