When an individual is wronged or injured by a federal agency or government employee, that person may have an actionable negligence claim against the government. It is necessary to seek legal counsel to determine whether or not the government is immune in this particular case or whether a legitimate claim can be brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).
Pursuant to the FTCA, if the incident arose from an act by a federal employee who was “acting in the scope of” his or her employment, an action may be brought. Claims against the government, however, are often complex, burdened with various restrictions. It is always advisable to consult with an attorney in such cases, rather than attempting to bring a lawsuit independently.
The FTCA does not extend liability to every individual associated with the government, and claims are only permitted under certain circumstances. For example, independent contractors employed by the government are only included under the act in exceptional cases. Most often only a claim of negligence can be brought, rather than a complaint for deliberate wrongdoing. Furthermore, the claim must be grounded upon, and cannot conflict with, state law.
There are several steps to be taken in filing a lawsuit against the government. First and foremost, within two years from the date of the incident, an administrative claim must be filed with the agency that allegedly caused harm. In order for the claim to be considered and investigated, a form has to be filed which includes all relevant facts and requested damages. The claim for damages is limited; punitive damages are not typically an option.
If and when the agency discards the claim, in whole or in part, a suit may be filed within six months of the date on the decision letter. In most cases, all administrative remedies must be fully exhausted before seeking legal action. If the agency does not respond, however, the complainant may be permitted to proceed with the lawsuit. An attorney can best advise whether an action can be filed, whether the government has any plausible defense, and whether it is in the client's best interest to settle the case.