Learn how to file a personal injury claim against federal or state agencies. Act fast if you’re hurt on government property or by a government worker.
The Federal Tort Claims Act, along with similar state and local laws, allows injured persons to sue the government.
Filing an injury claim or lawsuit against the government can be complicated and confusing, with restrictive time limits. After all, the rules were written by many of the same folks who created our tax laws.
We’ve unpacked the basics of filing government injury claims, including pitfalls to avoid and when you might need help to get the compensation you deserve.
Correctly Filing a Government Injury Claim
The federal government, state laws, and most local governments have strict rules for filing personal injury claims. Most require the injured person first to file a “Notice of Claim.”
To file a notice of claim, you must have the proper government claim form.
Most government claim forms must include:
- Your name and address
- The name of the government agency responsible for your injuries
- A description of when, where, and how you were injured
- A description of your injury damages, such as your medical costs and lost wages
- A statement of your intention to seek compensation for injuries caused by the negligence of the government agency or its employee
Be sure to calculate the full value of your injury claim. You are likely to end up negotiating down a bit from your original demand for compensation, so don’t sell yourself short.
Use Standard Form 95 to give notice of a wrongful death or injury claim to any federal agency. For state or local claims, go to the agency’s website, or call to get the claim form they require.
Where to File the Notice of Claim
You must file federal claims with the specific government agency where your injury occurred, or where the government employee responsible for your injury works. For example, to report a slip and fall injury in your local IRS office, you must file your claim with that office.
You must file state and local claims with the central agency that handles claims for that governments’ departments. If you’ve been injured by a state or local government employee, or on state or local property, call or go to the official website to get contact information for the department handling negligence claims.
It’s critically important to know the claim rules for the government agency responsible for your injuries. For example, claimants for injuries in public schools might have to start by submitting their complaint to the school board.
Filing the wrong claim form, failing to fill out the form exactly right, or sending it to the wrong office can cause your claim to be rejected with no time to try again before the filing deadline expires.
Beware of Government Deadlines
The federal government’s filing deadline for injury claims is two years from the date of injury. Once a claim is filed, the agency has up to six months to respond.
If your federal claim is denied, or the government agency hasn’t responded within six months, you can file a personal injury lawsuit in federal court.
The statute of limitations for filing state or local government claims can be anywhere from 30 days to six months from the date of your injury, or the date you discovered your injury.
If you miss the filing deadline, you may lose your right to make a claim or file a lawsuit.
The Government Injury Claim Process
After you’ve filed your injury claim, you are likely to hear from an insurance adjuster who represents the relevant government agency.
The adjuster might work for the government legal department, like the state attorney’s office, or for a regular insurance company. For example, if you were injured in a car accident caused by a city worker, the city might have commercial policies with an auto insurance company.
Evidence Will Support Your Claim
As with other types of personal injury cases, you must have credible evidence to support your government injury claim.
Compelling evidence may include:
- Physician reports describing the type and extent of your injury, including how the injury will affect your ability to work and live in the future
- Copies of medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses
- Repair or replacement costs for property damage, like broken eyeglasses
- Proof of lost income, including overtime and vacation days
- Documentation of your pain and suffering
Qualified Government Tort Claims
Not every tort (injury) gives rise to a cause of action against a government agency. In other words, the government isn’t legally responsible for every injury involving a government employee or facility.
Injuries Caused by Government Employees
To have a qualifying claim under federal, state, or local tort claim acts, the employee who caused the injuries must have been on duty and working in their official capacity at the time of the negligent act or wrongdoing.
“Working in their official capacity” means the worker was doing what they were supposed to be doing when you got hurt, like a city bus driver who rear-ends your car. Driving the bus is within the driver’s official capacity.
If a government employee deliberately does something to harm you, the government might be off the hook.
For example, if a federal park employee, a state motor vehicle clerk, or a town dog catcher intentionally punched you in the face, breaking your nose, the government would not be liable.
Most government agencies won’t allow “intentional tort” claims unless the employee is a law enforcement officer on duty at the time of the incident who is accused of police brutality or excessive use of force. Suing the police is a unique type of case that requires an experienced law firm.
Injuries Caused by Hazardous Government Property
You can also file a government injury claim if you are hurt by a hazardous condition in a government building or on government property. Government entities have a duty of care to provide a safe and accessible environment for the public.
To prove government premises liability, you must show:
- The government agency owned or controlled the property when you were injured
- A dangerous condition existed on the property
- The government agency knew or should have known the dangerous condition existed
- The agency had a reasonable amount of time to repair or remove the hazard but didn’t
- You didn’t do anything wrong that could have contributed to the circumstances of your injury
The Federal Tort Claims Act
Before 1946, the governments in the United States had special protections against lawsuits called Sovereign Immunity, which is a legal term meaning the government can’t be sued without its consent.
Some legal experts say sovereign immunity only applies to the federal government, while others argue that state and city governments share the same kind of protection from claims and lawsuits.
In response to abuses under the system of sovereign immunity, the United States Congress enacted a federal law called the Federal Tort Claims Act. The Act got rid of many, but not all the sovereign immunity protections for government agencies and federal employees.
Many city and state governments have their own version of the Tort Claims Act to handle injury claims filed by private citizens.
Fortunately, most federal, state, and local governments will waive sovereign immunity in private injury claims. Public transportation bus accidents and slip and falls in public buildings are examples of situations where the federal agency may waive immunity.
Filing an injury claim under the Tort Claims Act is different from filing one against a homeowner or business.
Government injury claims have special paperwork that must be filled out exactly right and submitted under tight deadlines. If you make a mistake, your claim will be rejected.
State and Local Tort Claim Acts
Individual state governments and municipalities followed the federal government’s lead and began enacting their own tort claim acts. Although they are essentially the same, there are some important differences, such as:
- Where the claims must be filed
- The time limitations for filing those claims
When You’ll Need an Attorney
You are not required to hire an attorney. However, filing an injury claim against the government can be much more complicated than a regular insurance claim.
It’s extremely risky to try handling your claim without expert legal advice, especially if you’ve suffered serious injuries.
Unless your claim documents are letter-perfect and sent to the right place before the deadline, you could lose your right to seek any compensation, no matter how badly you were injured.
If you have to file an injury lawsuit in district court, you will be up against well-seasoned U.S. government attorneys.
There’s no need for you to fight alone.
Most personal injury lawyers offer a free consultation and are willing to represent injury victims on a contingency fee basis. In other words, your attorney only gets paid if you win.
Don’t hesitate to get help with your government injury claim. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to discuss your case with a skilled personal injury attorney.
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