In Northern Virginia, we have a large military and government population. Many of those government employees are driving government vehicles on Virginia roads. If you are in a motor vehicle accident caused by the negligence of a government employee operating a government vehicle, you may have a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”).
The FTCA is a limited waiver of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is an old legal concept that says you cannot sue the sovereign. The idea behind sovereign immunity was that “the king can do no wrong.” In our modern world, there are numerous legislative limitations on sovereign immunity.
The Federal Tort Claims Act:
- Gives federal courts exclusive jurisdiction.
- Over civil actions on claims for money damages.
- For personal injury, death, or property damage.
- Caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of a government employee.
- While in the scope of their employment.
- Under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.
Statute of Limitations
The FTCA has its own two-pronged statute of limitations and is not subject to state statutes of limitation. Claims are forever barred unless an administrative claim is filed within two years after claim accrual, or litigation is filed within six months after the date of mailing of the denial letter. The statute is now subject to “equitable tolling” under a case called United States v. Wong.
Under the FTCA, the claimant must “exhaust administrative remedies” before filing suit. The claimant must send written notice of the incident using Standard Form (SF) 95 or another writing containing certain information necessary to “perfect” the claim. If the notice is signed by a legal representative, such as an attorney, it must include evidence of the attorney’s authority to sign. The notice must also contain sufficient information to allow the agency to understand the nature of the claim and the damages. And it must contain a “sum certain” for damages caused by the incident.
The government agency then has six months to adjudicate. If the agency does not act on the claim within six months, the claimant can consider this a “constructive denial” and file a lawsuit. If the government agency denies the claim, the claimant must file suit in the appropriate U.S. District Court within six months of mailing of the denial letter. There is no right to a jury trial in FTCA cases, and attorney’s fees are limited by statute.
Feres Bar Partially Abrogated
In the 2020 National Defense Appropriations Act, Congress partially abrogated a long standing FTCA doctrine – called the Feres bar – which prevented military members from suing the military for acts incident to military service. Military members can now sue the military for medical malpractice, but the remedy is under the Military Claims Act (“MCA”) not the FTCA, and there is no right to sue under the MCA.
Call Frogale Law at 703-488-7140 for questions about your FTCA case.