Federal Tort Claims Act & Sovereign Immunity

It’s hard to really gauge what the lay person on the street thinks about sovereign immunity. To clarify, that term applies to a type of immunity from litigation that the United States enjoys simply by virtue of being the nation that it is. The concept comes from British common law, where, many years ago, the king enjoyed complete immunity from lawsuits.

Of course it’s a good thing that our country has modernized quite a bit, and so now, the United States is not completely immune from all lawsuits. However, it still enjoys an appreciable amount of immunity. Simply put, the general rule remains that the United States IS immune, unless it waives immunity or some other statute confers the right to bring suit against the United States.

Which brings us to the Federal Tort Claims Act. The Act was passed on the middle of the 20th century at a time when, by and large, individuals could not sue the United States for tort damages. The FTCA basically provided a complex procedural framework by which a plaintiff could file a tort suit against the United States. Now, that seems simple enough: comply with the procedures, and then get your day in court. Not so fast.

The procedures included in this process are complex, and they must be strictly complied with. If not, the case could get dismissed, and if a dismissal results in a statute of limitations running, then the plaintiff might never see his or her day in court. The moral of the story is that if a plaintiff has an injury that resulted from the negligence of an agent of the United States, such as a doctor at a VA hospital, or a USPS driver, or some other federal employee or contractor, that plaintiff would be smart to contact an attorney with experience litigating FTCA claims. They are different enough from ordinary state negligence claims that even an otherwise experienced attorney could make a mistake.

(This post is intended to be educational and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have questions or believe these issues affect you or your case, please contact an attorney.)

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