Every day, people across the United States unfortunately suffer injuries caused by the negligence of other individuals or groups. From car accidents to medical malpractice, many of these situations quickly lead to personal injury lawsuits. In a personal injury lawsuit, the wounded party attempts to recover damages from the person or party responsible for causing them harm. To do so, they must prove that their injuries occurred because of negligence.
However, not all injuries are caused by private citizens or corporations. In some instances, a government employee or institution may bear the responsibility for your damages. You may be wondering whether it is possible to sue the federal government for recovery in such a situation. We put together this article to explain the basics of lawsuits against the federal government, since they tend to be more complex than a standard personal injury case.
What is Sovereign Immunity?
You may have heard the term “sovereign immunity” mentioned before regarding a public servant or government employee. Sovereign immunity establishes that certain branches of the government (usually at the state or federal level) may not be sued without its consent. The government does have the ability to waive this special protection via the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The FTCA provides a legal avenue for compensation for victims (or their families) that suffered injury, property damage, or death due to the wrongful or negligent acts of a federal government employee.
Despite the existence of the FTCA, both successful claims and formal lawsuits against the government are still relatively rare. To have the best chance of successfully recovering damages in a case against the government, the services of an experienced attorney will be invaluable.
What is a Notice of Claim?
In many states, you are required to file a notice of claim against the government entity you believe is responsible for your injuries before you may proceed with a lawsuit. Each state has different laws regulating what the notice of claim must include and when it must be filed by, so it’s essential to seek the counsel of an injury attorney with experience litigating government cases.
Essentially, filing a notice of claim alerts the government to the fact that you suffered an injury you believe it is responsible for. The process thus gives whichever government entity you are acting against an opportunity to respond to your claim before you can progress to a lawsuit. Your claim may be accepted, allowing you to recover the damages your attorney requested on your behalf. A claim may also be denied, in which case you may then elect to move forward with a personal injury lawsuit.
What if a Government-Affiliated Organization Caused Your Injury?
Lawsuits against the government tend to be complex. In some cases, it can be challenging to determine whether the person who caused you harm is a representative of the government at all. For example, say you are rear-ended by an employee of an organization that is partially funded by your state’s government. In our scenario, they do not work for a state agency, but do operate from a workspace owned by the state.
How your case proceeds in such a situation depends on whether the organization responsible for your accident is viewed as an “arm of the state.” If the entity is viewed as a governmental organization for all intents and purposes, you will likely have to initiate a notice of claim. Should the entity not be protected by government status, you may be able to proceed with a standard personal injury lawsuit. When there is uncertainty over the liable entity’s status, it may be wise to submit a notice of claim to any government branch or organization that may bear fault for the harm you suffered.
Examples of Personal Injury Lawsuits Against the U.S. Government
Filing a personal injury lawsuit against the government can be challenging, unless you have a very strong case based upon gross negligence. Listed below are a few examples of lawsuits that are either currently active or have already been settled.
Seong Sil Kim v. New York City Transit Authority: In this case, a woman struck by an E train in Manhattan sued the New York City Transit Authority for negligence and damages. Initially, a jury ruled in her favor and awarded her $14.1 million in damages. The judge reduced this amount by 30%, due to the victim’s partial liability for her injuries. The New York City Transit Authority later appealed, and the initial jury verdict was eventually reversed.
Lawsuits Against New York City & Government Contractors on Behalf of 9/11 Responders: More than 10,000 lawsuits were filed against New York City and various government agencies by first responders and other people present during the event of 9/11. Emergency workers, building employees, and volunteers claimed that they suffered long-term health problems because of exposure to the toxic dust raised when the towers fell. A settlement of over $712 million was approved in 2011 for more than 95% of the claims. That same year, the Zadroga Act was passed and the 9/11 Victim Compensation fund was reopened, allowing for additional economic relief for those harmed.
Camp Lejeune Lawsuits: Between 1953 and 1987, the water treatment facilities at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base were contaminated with toxic substances. Soldiers and on-base civilians that used the water for cooking, bathing, and drinking suffered a range of health problems, ranging from various cancers to infertility. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which was signed into law as a component of the Honoring Our PACT Act on August 8th, 2022, allows victims to sue the government for damages incurred because of the deadly water.
How to Initiate the Legal Process
If you believe that a government employee or entity is responsible for harm that you or a loved one suffered, the first step should be going over your case with an injury attorney that has experience trying similar cases. They will be able to advise you on your legal options and potential paths to recovery.