The U.S. Government is the Defendant: How to Proceed

When a person is injured through the negligence of an employee of the United States government, there are special procedural hoops to jump through to hold the government accountable and obtain just compensation.  Claims against the United States government must be made pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), codified at  28 United States Code section 1346, et seq.  A claimant must first “exhaust their administrative remedy” under the FTCA before they can proceed to file a lawsuit against the Uniteds States in federal court (the federal courts have jurisdiction over claims against the United States).  Filing a claim under the FTCA is a therefore a condition precedent to being able to file suit in federal court.  Specific deadlines apply procedurally for filing such a claim, the most important of which is that one has to file the claim under the FTCA within two years from the accrual of the claim.  If the government denies the claim (the most likely outcome), the claimant then has 180 days (6 months), pursuant to 28 United States Code section 2401(b), to file suit in federal district court (the trial court level of the federal system).  If the government just sits on the claim without taking action, the claimant can deem the claim “effectively” denied by inaction after 180 days have passed, and can choose to initiate suit in federal district court.

These procedural deadlines are strictly enforced, so an injured person in this situation needs trial counsel experienced in federal court practice and procedure to protect their rights to a just recovery.  A current Janssen Malloy LLP case serves to illustrate the procedural requirements to protect our clients.  Three Humboldt State University students were injured when a United States Postal Service (“USPS”) truck unsafely pulled out in front of them on Highway 101 locally, causing a significant collision.  One of the passengers suffered a skull fracture and a degloving injury to his hand, among other injuries.  Because the USPS (a federal government entity) is the defendant, a claim under the FTCA must be timely filed before the lawsuit in federal court can be initiated. The FTCA does not allow for a jury trial in federal court; a court trial with the federal district judge is the procedural remedy for the plaintiffs (the judge serves as judge and jury in the sense of fact finding and eventual ruling on liability and damages).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Federal Rules of Evidence apply in a federal trial under the FTCA, which differ in important respects from state court procedural and evidentiary rules.  It is therefore important for an injured party to be represented by trial counsel familiar and experienced in litigating FTCA claims in the federal court arena.  Janssen Malloy LLP’s attorneys have the background and knowledge to successfully handle cases involving the federal government as a defendant, and stand ready to assist when the need arises.