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Government Tort Claims

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Government Tort Claims

You can sue an individual. You can sue a corporation. But can you sue the government? Can you negotiate a settlement with the government? The answer to these two questions is “sometimes.” 

Examples of Possible Government Tort Claims

Following are some typical examples of government tort claims:

  • A car accident with a USPS truck;
  • A wrongful death claim arising from medical malpractice at a Veterans Administration hospital; or
  • A slip and fall claim arising from a dangerous condition at a government facility.

A nearly unlimited number of examples are possible.

What is Sovereign Immunity?

What is Sovereign Immunity?

What does the term “sovereign immunity” mean? In a nutshell, it means that you cannot sue the government for monetary damages without its permission. This might not sound fair, but consider that the money comes from the pockets of taxpayers. Since suing the government means suing all of its taxpayers (including yourself), some restrictions are in order.

What is a Tort Claims Act?

A tort claims act is a government’s way of giving people permission to sue, subject to certain terms and restrictions. The Federal Tort Claims Act allows you to sue the federal government for a personal injury, while Florida has enacted its own waiver of sovereign immunity

Filing Procedures Under the Federal Tort Claims Act

You can sue a federal government agency if you suffered an injury caused by a wrongful act committed by a federal employee who was acting within the scope of their employment at the time they caused the accident. You cannot sue the employee directly unless they acted intentionally. You can, however, sue the government agency they represent. 

Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

You must first file an administrative claim against the federal government, and you must exhaust all of your administrative remedies before you file a lawsuit. You have until two years after the accident or incident that injured you to file your administrative claim. 

The federal government agency you sue (the USPS, for example) has six months to accept or reject your claim. If they respond and you disagree with them, you have six months to file a lawsuit. You don’t have to file a lawsuit until the government responds to your claim, no matter how long that takes.

Filing a Lawsuit

If you choose to file a lawsuit, you must file it in the federal district court where you live or where your claim arose. If you live in New York and you were hit by a USPS truck in Miami, for example, you can sue in New York or Florida as you please. Remember that without new evidence, you can’t demand more money in your lawsuit than you demanded in your administrative claim. 

Settling Out of Court

You will have two opportunities to settle your claim through negotiation:

  • During the administrative phase; and
  • While your lawsuit is pending.

Just make sure to meet all of the applicable deadlines. Otherwise, your claim will expire.

Filing Procedures Under the Florida Tort Claims Act

Florida tort claims legislation covers claims against state agencies as well as claims against city and county governments. The reason for this is that although US states are not subdivisions of the federal government, Florida cities, and counties are subdivisions of the Florida state government. 

Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

To claim against the state government, you must file a written claim with the Florida Division of Risk Management within three years of the occurrence of the incident that led to the injury (one year for state prison inmates). To claim against a local government, you must file your claim with the appropriate local agency. 

The government (state or local) then has 180 days to investigate your claim and either accept or reject your claim. 

Filing a Lawsuit

If Florida rejects your claim, you have three years from the date of the initial incident to file a personal injury lawsuit. If you have a wrongful death claim, you have until two years after the date of the victim’s death to file a lawsuit. 

Compensation Limits

Florida limits compensation for personal injury to $200,000 per agency and $300,000 per claim. That means if you file a claim against a single agency, your compensation limit is $200,000. If you file a claim against more than one agency for the same claim, your aggregate compensation limit is $300,000. You cannot receive punitive damages.

Settling Out of Court

You can settle out of court any time before you finally resolve your claim, either during the administrative phase or during the litigation phase. Courts are particularly keen on seeing parties settle their disputes since it reduces their crowded dockets.  

Contact a Lawyer With Experience Handling Government Tort Claims

Not every lawyer has experience handling tort claims against a federal state, or local government. Even those who do often lack successful experience handling such claims. Seek out a personal injury attorney with a strong track record of successfully handling government tort claims, preferably at the level you seek to assert your claim—federal, state, or local.