Learn how to file a government injury claim against federal or state agencies. Act fast if you’re hurt on government property or by a government worker.
You couldn’t sue the government 70-plus years ago. If you were injured by a negligent federal worker or by unsafe conditions on government property, you were out of luck.
Federal, state, and local government laws have changed over the years to allow injury victims to seek fair compensation from government agencies.
Yes, you can sue the government – if you know how.
Filing a government injury claim can be complicated and confusing. 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.
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 doesn’t make mistakes.
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.
Sovereign immunity is a legal rule that stops individuals from filing a lawsuit against the government or its agencies without government permission. The rule comes from an old-world belief that the country’s ruler can do no wrong.
In response to abuses under the system of sovereign immunity, the United States Congress enacted a federal law called the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Many state and city governments have their own version of the Tort Claims Act to handle injury claims filed by private citizens.
The Act got rid of many, but not all the sovereign immunity protections for government agencies and employees.
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 government 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 and local governments 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 deadlines for filing those claims
Injuries Covered by Tort Claim Acts
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 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.
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.
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
Correctly Filing a Government Injury Claim
The federal government and most state and local governments have strict rules for filing 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 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 settling for less than your original demand for compensation, so don’t sell yourself short.
Use Standard Form 95 for injury claim notice to any federal government 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 government’s 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 hasn’t responded within six months, you can file a lawsuit in Federal District Court.
The filing period for 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.
Don’t risk losing your right to seek compensation. Contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your government injury claim.
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 any insurance claim, 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
- Proof of lost income, including overtime and vacation days
- Documentation of your pain and suffering
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 an attorney, 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, you will be up against well-seasoned government attorneys.
There’s no need for you to fight alone.
Most injury attorneys don’t charge for their initial 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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