Fell off sidewalk at post office due to missing handrail...

by Chris
(Warwick, RI)

My father tried to mail a letter inside the Post office. He left his car and walked across the parking lot toward the front doors. When he reached the curb, he stepped up and reached for the end of the hand rail and ultimately fell short on his reach, at which point he lost his balance and fell off the curb edge and into sharp, large rocks next to the curb.

The handrail was about 4ft short from the curb due to a rusted section having been removed some time ago and never replaced. This Curb corner is used daily by the employees to get to their flagpole to raise and lower the flag, so it's an area that is well traveled by people.

After he fell, several people came over and had to assist him to his feet and also back onto the pavement. Upon seeing the extent of his injuries they sat him down on the curb and called 911. An ambulance was dispatched and he was promptly taken to the Emergency Room.

His injuries included a large head laceration that needed 5 staples and three stitches to close, his skin was torn clean off his elbow, his left hip and leg are in pain, and now he is having issues with his lower back and radicular pain radiating down the back of his leg, indicating a possible herniated lower disc.

So far, we have had to go to the ER 3 times. The second time was because the bleeding could not be controlled, and the third time was 48 hours later so they could check the wounds due to the bleeding issues.

All this has taken a toll on both him and myself both mentally and physically. If that handrail had been replaced as it should have been, my father would not have fallen off the curb onto the rocks. Do we have a claim possibly? What are our options? Thank you.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Fell off sidewalk at post office due to missing handrail...":

Chris (Warwick, RI):

Under the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity, federal and state government agencies and their employees, including the U.S. Post Office, have traditionally been protected from liability resulting from injury claims filed by third parties.

However, with the passage of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), Congress made some exceptions to the sovereign immunity doctrine. In so doing, Congress left open the possibility of third party personal injury claims (like your Dad's) being filed against the government, and in turn, for the government to be responsible to compensate victims of governmental negligence.

You can only sue the USPS for what the law calls “torts” under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). First, to file a claim, you must complete and file Standard Form 95 with the USPS. Then you must handle the claim administratively. You can hire an attorney to help you with this process.

As an aside, the Federal Torts Claims Act exceptions do not apply to injury claims arising out of "the negligent transmission of letters or postal matter" by the U.S. Post Office or it's employees. This "exception" to the FTCA liability is presently being litigated in Federal Court in the case of Dolan vs. the United States Post Office.

In her lawsuit, Barbara Dolan alleged when she opened the door to her home and stepped out on to the porch, she fell over letters and other material recently left there by a postal employee.

Ms. Dolan went on to allege her injuries were a result of a USPS employee's negligence, and that she suffered, among other maladies, "severe and permanent injuries to her body," as well as "mental anxiety and anguish, and a severe shock to her entire nervous system."

The original federal court dismissed Ms. Dolan's lawsuit, stating the exceptions to the FTCA do not include injuries arising from "the negligent transmission of letters or postal matter" by the U.S. Post Office or it's employees.

Presently, the Dolan case is under further appeal. It is possible the case may be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court if the Supreme Court grants "Certiorari" (meaning the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case).

If the U.S. Supreme Court grants Certiorari it will be asked to determine the scope of the statutory exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act, and whether the exception truly extends to "any claim" arising out of negligent transmission, including those for physical injury to individuals.

To read the Dolan appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court go to:

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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