Procedural Hoops When Suing the Federal Government

When the federal government (or one of its agencies) is the defendant, strict compliance with the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) is required.  The FTCA is the exclusive money damages remedy for negligent acts or omissions of federal government employees acting within the scope of their federal employment (28 USC section 2679).  A current Janssen Malloy LLP case illustrates the numerous procedural obstacles the federal government has via federal statutes to limit such claims.  Our clients were struck on Highway 101 by a United States Postal Service (“USPS”) delivery truck, driven by a USPS employee within the scope of his employment.  All three of our clients were injured, one quite seriously, suffering skull and sternal fractures and degloving injuries to his hand.  Recovery for such damages is only authorized under the FTCA (28 USC section 1346(b)).  To pursue such damages, claimants must present an administrative tort claim to the appropriate government agency for adjudication before filing suit in federal court. (28 USC section 2675(a)).  Further, an injured plaintiff cannot demand or recover in federal court an amount greater than that submitted in the administrative tort claim without proof of newly discovered evidence or intervening facts relating to the amount of the claim (28 USC section 2675(b)). 

The FTCA statute of limitations (how long one has to present the claim) requires the claim to be presented to the appropriate government agency within two years of accrual (28 USC section 2401(b)).  Then, a claimant must file a federal court complaint (the lawsuit) within six months of the agency’s denial of the administrative tort claim, or file a federal court complaint anytime six months after presenting the claim if no agency action has been taken (28 USC section 2401(b)).  If this sounds like the government is purposefully making it difficult to pursue a damage claim, that’s because that is precisely the point.

In our current case, we submitted the FTCA claim on behalf of all three clients last week, and await the federal agency’s response.  The response is often either a prompt denial of the claim or alternatively radio silence, both in hopes of discouraging plaintiffs from pursuing their damages.  We expect we’ll be filing the lawsuit in federal court in due course, where more special procedural rules apply.  One of the biggest is that under the FTCA, only a non-jury trial before a US District Court federal judge is permitted (28 USC section 2402).   This means the judge assigned to one’s case is judge, jury and executioner, all rolled into one person.  In our clients’ cases, we have submitted a comprehensive settlement demand along with the FTCA claim itself.  It is now up to the government agency to assess the demands, and we will proceed to file in federal court and go all the way through to verdict if necessary.

The above discussion shows that clients injured by the negligence of a federal employee need seasoned and experienced trial counsel to guide them through the rocky shoals of federal claim and trial procedure.  The attorneys at Janssen Malloy LLP stand ready to assist when this need arises.