Filing a Claim Under the Government Tort Claims Act
You have probably heard the term “sovereign immunity” and may have a general idea that a government entity cannot be sued. But it’s more complex than that. A government can be sued if it consents or waives its immunity. Through the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), the federal government has done just that for tort (injury) claims in certain circumstances.
The FTCA is extremely complicated, and bringing an injury claim against the federal government or a state or local entity is a complex process. This brief overview gives you a general idea of how the process works.
What Is the Federal Tort Claims Act?
The FTCA is a set of federal laws that outline when and how you may bring claims against a federal agency for injuries.
In general, under the FTCA, an injured individual may bring a claim for money damages against the United States if:
- A federal employee’s negligence caused bodily injury, death, or property damage
- The employee was acting within the scope of their employment
- A private citizen would be liable in similar circumstances
In most cases, punitive damages are not recoverable under the FTCA. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for grossly negligent conduct. These damages are sometimes available in personal injury lawsuits against private individuals or companies, but they’re rarely awarded.
Filing a Claim Under the FTCA
Not every injury involving a federal agency will qualify for relief under the FTCA. But, if you do qualify to file a claim under the FTCA, you will have to follow certain procedures. The government has to have an opportunity to settle your claim before filing a formal lawsuit.
In a way, it’s a little like filing a claim with an insurance company after a car accident or truck accident. You generally won’t file a lawsuit unless they fail to offer you a fair settlement.
Filing an Administrative Claim
Unlike a personal injury claim against an individual, you won’t begin by filing a lawsuit in your county court. You must first go through the administrative process. You’ll have to follow the procedure for filing a claim with the federal agency responsible for your injury. In some cases, the agency responsible might be obvious (like if you fell at the post office). Other times, you may have to do some digging to find out which agency is in charge of the employee who caused you harm or which agency is responsible for maintaining the facility where you were injured.
Your claim must contain all pertinent facts about your accident to allow the government to evaluate your claim. You must include the exact amount of money you’re asking for - you can’t ask for more in a lawsuit filed later unless there is new evidence to support a higher demand. The statute of limitations for filing a claim under the FTCA is two years.
Response to Claim
The government agency has six months to respond to your claim. Most claims are resolved at the administrative level. However, if they deny your claim, you have six months to file a lawsuit in federal court.
In some cases, the government agency may not respond to your claim at all. That constitutes a “constructive denial” and allows you to go ahead and file a lawsuit if you wish.
Filing a Lawsuit
If the federal agency denies your claim, you can file a lawsuit with the help of an experienced attorney. Your lawsuit will be in federal court. You may file in the federal district where you live, but if your accident occurred in a different district, you may file there.
Your attorney can determine whether there are good reasons to file in a particular district (if there is more than one option).
Can I Sue a State Government?
So, what if a state or local government employee is responsible for your injury instead of a federal employee? Many states have adopted a provision similar to that of the FTCA on the state level. In Oklahoma, the process for suing a government entity is governed by the Governmental Tort Claims Act.
The general process is very similar to filing a claim against the federal government in that you first must comply with some administrative procedures.
Filing a Claim Against an Oklahoma Government Agency
A claim against the state must be filed in writing with the Office of the Risk Management Administrator of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. For claims against political subdivisions, like city or county agencies, you must file a claim in writing with the clerk of the government agency.
In most cases, you must file your claim in writing within one year of your injury. There are strict requirements as to the information that must be contained in your notice of a claim.
You must wait until the agency has made a decision on your claim before you file a lawsuit. Usually, the agency will respond within 90 days. If they fail to respond within 90 days, you can treat your claim as denied and proceed with a lawsuit.
When Would I File a Claim Against the Government?
If you are injured due to the negligence of a government employee, you could potentially have a valid claim against a government entity.
A government agency could potentially be held liable for:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- School bus accidents
- Assault injuries caused by negligent security
- Slip and fall accidents
- Poorly designed roads
- Construction accidents
Every accident is unique, and many involve multiple causes. You should always consult with a reputable personal injury attorney to determine whether you can file a claim.