The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allows you to sue the federal government for personal injuries, though there is a strict process for filing such a suit. When a government employee acts negligently–such as causing a car accident while driving a government vehicle–then you may be able to receive compensation to help in your injury. However, it is important to understand the various defenses that the government could use in your case. They are manifold. Many of them derive from the FTCA’s list of “exceptions,” which are circumstances under which you are not allowed to recover damages from the government.
When it comes to personal injury cases against the government, the exceptions quite often become the central issue. The government can bring them up at any time during your case. If you don’t hire an attorney who understands these exceptions and how to get around them, your chances of successfully suing the federal government are slim to none.
Intentional Torts: Interestingly, even though the government is generally liable for the negligent acts and omissions of its employees, it maintains immunity from the intentional acts of its employees. In other words, if a government employee hurts you on purpose, the government isn’t liable. The FTCA gives the following list of such intentional torts: “assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, libel, slander, misrepresentation, deceit, or interference with contract rights.” 28 U.S.C. §2680(h)
There is, however, an exception to this exception. Due largely to an outcry in the 1970s over perceived abuses by police, in 1974, Congress added a provision allowing for lawsuits against the government in cases where law enforcement officers have engaged in assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, abuse of process, or malicious prosecution.
It should be noted that the term “intentional torts” is a bit of a misnomer as some of these torts can also be borne of negligence and there are other intentional torts, like intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), which aren’t on the “intentional tort” list.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED): The FTCA outright bars prisoners from suing the government for IIED unless the prisoner’s distress arises out of an actual discernible physical injury which was caused by a government employee’s negligence. Therefore, prisoners can’t claim that the government has intentionally distressed them by providing inadequate food, clothing, or social activity.
Outside of the context of federal prison, IIED claims are generally allowed against the government as long as they are not simply veiled attempts to recover for one of the excepted torts like assault, battery, or false imprisonment.
Quarantine: If the U.S. government wrongly places you into quarantine and you contract a disease as a result, or are injured in any way, you may not recover damages from the government for having placed you into the quarantine in the first place. However, you may be able to recover from individuals who make negligent decisions, such as a doctor who mistakenly authorizes your placement into quarantine.
Military: If you are a military service member and a government employee hurts you under circumstances that are related to your service, you may not sue or collect damages from the government for that injury. However, under certain non-combat related circumstances your family members may be able to collect damages for the government’s negligence, if it hurts them. For example, your child may be able to collect damages if your child was born with a defect because the government negligently exposed you to radiation or toxic chemicals.
Foreign Country: If you are hurt in a foreign country, you generally can’t recover under the FTCA for damages. This exception is meant to protect U.S. taxpayers from having to pay damages for frivolous suits brought in foreign nations, under foreign laws that could be unfriendly to U.S. law and customs. Even if it turns out that the government employee that hurt you (by directing or planning certain activities) was in Washington, D.C., you still cannot recover under the FTCA. However, there are potentially other claims you can make.
Beyond those explicitly listed among the exceptions, the government often employs a number of other defenses to avoid having to pay damages in personal injury cases.
Non-Employee Acts: The government may argue that the person who hurt you was not really a government employee. At several agencies, government contractors actually outnumber government employees and it can be hard for you to tell the difference. For example, security personnel, census takers, court-appointed attorneys, and sometimes even letter carriers are often actually contractors.
Recreational Use Statutes: Under the law, the government is only liable for your injury if a private person would have been liable in the same situation. Most states have a recreational use statute which says that landowners who, without charging a fee (or for a nominal fee), make their lands available to the public for recreational use cannot be sued for injuries to people on that land. Many federally owned parks and beaches fall under this rule.
If you have questions about suing the government after an Albuquerque personal injury (or any other potentially negligent party) be sure to contact an experienced legal professional today.