What do you Mean I Can’t Sue the Government?

Or the Police Department, School Board, Post Office, FBI or any other federal or local governmental entity!  That right, it’s called Sovereign immunity and it protects the Government, nationally, locally and internationally from being sued.

The entire concept of sovereign immunity is antiquated, dating back to the days when it was proclaimed: “The king can do no wrong.”

King?”

Anyone who believes governments can do no wrong must be completely out of touch with reality.  Sadly, those who are injured or have died due to the negligence of a governmental employee may fall victim to this very old, legal doctrine that states  the sovereign or state cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution.

“That’s crazy, right?”“So when can I sue the Government or Sovereign?”

Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, you can file a lawsuit against the government in certain situations. The FTCA allows you to file a lawsuit for injury, loss of property, or wrongful death caused by a federal employee only if it was caused by negligence and if you could file a similar lawsuit against a private person and win.  Furthermore, for you to be able to sue, the federal employee must have been within the scope of his/her employment when the event occurred. For example, if an FBI agent crashed into you while chasing a suspect, then you might have a case because the FBI agent was in the scope of their work.  However, if the same FBI agent crashed into you while driving his kids to school; you can’t sue the government, even if he was driving his work vehicle. But you may have a case against the FBI agent as a private citizen since the agent was not in the scope of their work.

“OK, so what if I want to sue a governmental entity under the FTCA rule because I was badly injured during the time when the employee was on the clock?”

Here’s how it works.  First, you should consider hiring legal counsel so the process is done correctly and in a timely manner. This is a very complicated situation and an attorney can help make sure you are compensated properly and things are done in an orderly manner.  But if you decide to go it on your own, you have to file a claim within two years with the federal agency responsible for your situation. So, if an FBI agent crashed into you, then you’d have to file with the FBI. At this stage it is considered an administrative claim. You need to file as quickly as possible to make sure it doesn’t get rejected as being late.Make sure you include as many facts as possible in your claim along with the amount you want in damages.  An SF 95 form will ensure you’ve provided all the information the agency requires to carry out its investigation.

After submitting your claim, the agency has to issue a ruling within six months. If you have a strong case, the federal agency may admit your claim and offer to compensate you in full or in part, so you may not have to go to court.

If the federal agency refuses to compensate you or rejects your claim, you then need to file your lawsuit within six months from the date when the decision was mailed to you. If the agency doesn’t make a decision within six months, you can either wait for their decision or go ahead and file the lawsuit. Note that the clock starts counting down on the six-month limit only once a ruling has been made.If you were badly injured, at this point your medical bills are probably really mounting up!

“How much can I sue for?”

You can sue for any amount you want but chances are you will not receive more than the limit set on sovereign immunity liability in your state.  In Florida, that’s $200,000.  If you have lost a limb or a loved one has died in the accident, that $200,000 is going to feel like a real slap in the face.

“Is it possible I can get more?”

It is, but this could take years and usually has to be approved by the Governor of your state or some other governmental committee.  Most likely you would end up in court with a trial by jury in order to receive anything better than the minimum.  Again, the chances are slim and if your law suit was for say $10,000,000 because you lost a loved one, you might only be awarded $200,000.Best advice, seek counsel.  Call a law firm that has experience in these types of cases and has a track record of presenting claims bills to the Governor to get morethan the minimum recovery.

Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath have been fighting for the rights of our clients for over thirty years and have the trial experience, resources and reputation for taking on thesecomplicated cases.