When wrongdoing is committed that results in property damage or personal injury, the common remedy is to seek restitution from the responsible party in a court of law. The injured party typically seeks restitution to pay for the cost to replace property, receive medical care, and pay bills while they are unable to work. If the incident causes permanent disability or death, the injured party may seek to recover compensation to cover costs for future medical care and future lost earnings.
However, when personal injury or property damage occurs because of the negligence of a federal employee, the path to a legal resolution is different. When an employee or agent of the federal government or a federal agency, acting within the scope of their employment, commits a negligent, wrongful, or injurious act or omission, the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) says the liability for the tort does not lie with the individual, but instead with the U.S. government.
What is a Tort?
The term “tort” refers to any wrongdoing or injury caused by someone else’s failure to fulfill a legal duty. Under United States tort law, federal employees are not personally liable for most torts they commit in the course of their work. Instead, the federal government provides an exclusive remedy for such tort claims called the Federal Tort Claims Act.
The Federal Tort Claims Act is a statute dating from 1946 that allows private parties to recover restitution for certain torts committed by employees or agents of the United States Government. The FTCA gives people the ability to hold the U.S. government responsible for wrongdoing committed by its employees or agents in the course of their employment. (Actions of independent contractors hired by the government are not included unless they are treated as employees.)
Prior to the FTCA, the sovereign immunity doctrine protected the federal government from prosecution for claims of personal injury and property damage even when federal employees committed negligent or wrongful acts. The act removes the federal government’s immunity from certain types of tort claims and gives the government responsibilities much like those of a private citizen. If a private citizen committing the same act would be liable under tort law, the federal government can also be held liable, unless certain limitations stated in the act apply.
With a few exceptions (for federal law enforcement officers), the Tort Claims Act does not cover injuries caused by intentional misconduct of federal employees.
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What is the statute of limitations in an FTCA case?
The FTCA allows injured people to recover money damages when a federal employee causes an injury. The FTCA applies to medical malpractice committed by federally employed health care providers. Victims of medical malpractice must bring claims within a limited time under the FTCA. How long do you have before your statute of limitations expires?
The statute of limitations on FTCA cases is two years. So, to prove negligence, the injured party must file a claim with the appropriate federal agency within two years of the injury or death. It is critically important to file your claim as soon as possible after the injury.
Filing the Initial Administrative Claim
In some respects, Federal Tort Claims Act medical malpractice cases are quite different from ordinary tort cases. Before you can file an FTCA lawsuit, you must first file an initial claim with the appropriate government agency. Moreover, in such a case, the injured party may not file a lawsuit against the government until he or she has exhausted all administrative remedies.
An injured party may file a claim by completing Standard Form 95. You are not required by the federal government to use Standard Form 95 to submit your claim, but it provides an easy format that collects all the required information.
Your personal injury claim must be filed with the federal agency responsible for the injury and, as stated previously, it must be submitted within two years after the claim accrues. Part of the required information that must be submitted for your claim form to be considered is a claim for money damages in a specific, or “sum certain” amount. This is the amount claimed for wrongful death, personal injury, or loss/damage of property. Without the sum certain, a claim is not considered valid.
Missteps happen easily when it comes to filing an administrative claim with the government. Many people choose to obtain the help of experienced federal tort attorneys to navigate this process. The federal tort attorneys at Whitehurst, Harkness, Brees, Cheng, Alsaffar, Higginbotham and Jacob, PLLC, have decades of experience representing injured persons at the administrative claim stage and throughout trial in federal courts all over the United States.
Tort Attorneys with Proven Experience
Our federal tort attorneys have a strong record of success in serious personal injury cases in which the negligent party is an agent of the government. In fact, our firm obtained two of the largest Federal Tort Claims Act medical malpractice judgments in United States history.
Dickerson v. U.S., an FTCA medical malpractice birth injury case resulted in a $44.71 million trial judgment, reduced to $20 million after appeal, in which our clients received $15.75 million after attorneys’ fees and case expenses. Lebron v. U.S., another FTCA medical malpractice birth injury case resulted in a $32.67 million trial judgment, reduced to $23.25 million after appeal, in which our clients received $18.96 million after attorneys’ fees and case expenses.
Types of FTCA Cases
Federal Tort Claims Act cases can involve several areas of personal injury law. The Act applies when someone is injured in one of the following ways:
- Military Base Hospitals Medical Malpractice. Patients harmed by negligence or error while receiving medical care on base or at a military medical facility are eligible to file a medical malpractice claim under the FTCA.
- Veterans Affairs (VA) Malpractice. Those who received poor care that led to serious injury or illness at a VA medical facility may file an FTCA claim for medical malpractice.
- Military Truck or Vehicular Wreck. Injuries sustained as the result of a collision with a vehicle owned by the U.S. government are covered by the act as well. This includes military vehicles, postal trucks, and other government-owned vehicles operated by an employee or agent of the U.S. Government while in the course of their employment.
- Medical Malpractice at a Federally Funded Clinic. There are thousands of clinics across the nation that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Medical malpractice claims that arise out of the negligence of a provider at such a clinic who is deemed an employee of the federal government are subject to an FTCA claim.
- Premises Liability on Federal Property. Depending on the circumstances, persons injured on federal government property (e.g., a federal courthouse, office building, or post office) due to the negligence of a government employee may be able to recover damages under the FTCA.
- Injury Caused by a Federal Government Agency or Entity. If you are injured by an employee of an agency of the federal government or another such entity (e.g., FBI, NTSB) in the scope of employment, you can file a federal tort claim.
- Vehicle Accident Involving Federal Employee. If you are injured by a vehicle driven by an employee of the government, you can file a claim under the FTCA.
- Personal Injury by Federal Employee. Any other type of unintentional injury not otherwise mentioned above but caused by the negligence of a U. S. government employee would also fall under the umbrella of the FTCA.
Federal Tort Claims Act Settlements
Under the FTCA, federal agencies have administrative settlement authority. They can offer restitution for losses related to negligent actions/inactions of the agency or an agency employee.
When the liability of the federal government is clear, a federal tort claims act settlement is a more advantageous strategy for both parties. A settlement spares the plaintiff and his or her family from the emotional and physical strain of a trial. It is also preferable for the government agency to negotiate a settlement and retain some level of control, rather than to go to trial and allow a judge to make the decision.
A full and fair FTCA settlement will only be approved if a plaintiff can present strong and comprehensive evidence that both establishes the agency’s liability and documents injuries. Therefore, an effective FTCA litigation strategy is essential in order to get the outcome you desire. If an agency is not willing to offer a proper Federal Tort Claims Act settlement, you have the right to file a lawsuit.
Keep in mind that, pursuant to federal regulations, an individual may amend their FTCA claim at any point prior to reaching an administrative settlement or filing a lawsuit in federal court. If you have an additional claim after a settlement has already been reached, an experienced Federal Tort Claims Act attorney at Whitehurst, Harkness, Brees, Cheng, Alsaffar, Higginbotham and Jacob, PLLC can help you take action to get all the financial compensation you deserve.
Federal Tort Claim Act Cap on Damages
Although the FTCA contains limitations on the types of damages that can be recovered, the law does not include a cap on how much can be awarded. That being said, many states do cap certain types of damages. Any relevant state cap on damages will also apply to an FTCA claim. As an example, if a state caps non-economic damages on a medical malpractice claim—as Texas does—then an FTCA claim for malpractice occurring at a healthcare facility is also subject to this cap.
Attorney Fees and Administrative Settlement
Under federal law, attorneys’ fees are strictly capped when an FTCA claim reaches an administrative settlement. Here are the most important things you need to know about Federal Tort Act Claims and attorneys’ fees:
- FTCA attorneys’ fees are capped at 20% of an administrative settlement; and
- FTCA attorneys’ fees are capped at 25% of a judgment or compromise settlement.
It is unlawful for an attorney or a law firm to collect fees beyond what is authorized by the statute. If you have any specific questions about attorneys’ fees or the administrative settlement process, please do not hesitate to reach out to our legal team for immediate assistance.
What is the Military Claims Act (MCA)?
Under the FTCA is a “foreign country” exclusion, which prevents military personnel from bringing claims for injuries that occurred at medical facilities outside of the United States. This applies even if the injury occurred at a U.S. military base in a foreign country. The exception was established in the U.S. Supreme Court case Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain.
However, the Military Claims Act (MCA) allows active-duty service members to recover damages from the federal government for injuries, wrongful death, medical malpractice or damage to their personal property that are caused by military personnel, so long as the injury was the result of non-combatant military activities. Unlike the FTCA, the MCA covers damages that occur anywhere in the world—including on foreign U.S. Military bases. Civilians who are injured overseas on military bases may also bring MCA claims.
In addition to MCA, the Camp Lejeuene Justice Act creates a path for military families to seek care for injuries caused as a result of government wrongdoing. Prior to the MCA, thousands of military members and their families were injured at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base by contaminated water. As a result of new legislation, military families harmed at Camp Lejeune have a 2 year window to file a quasi-FTCA claim. Learn more about these claims here.
Can victims and families sue for injuries or wrongful death that occur outside of the United States?
Only administrative claims can be presented under the Military Claims Act for injuries sustained overseas on military bases. Lawsuits cannot be filed for overseas injuries. If you were injured overseas in a non-combatant military related incident, contact our experienced tort attorneys to see if you are eligible to file a claim.
How Do I Present an FTCA Claim?
It is important to present a federal tort claim correctly, and you must do so within two years of the date the claim accrues. The process is complex and a misstep may cause you to lose your ability to recover compensation for your losses. In order to get your federal tort claim case started, follow these steps:
- Gather all relevant records related to your injury. This might include medical reports, names of witnesses if there was an accident, physicians consulted for a second opinion, medical bills, etc.
- Calculate your past economic losses. This includes what you have spent on medical care, equipment, lost wages, and out of pocket expenses related to your injury.
- Make a list of your injuries and limitations. It helps to understand a “before & after” picture.
- Complete FTCA tort claim form, Standard Form 95, with the help of an experienced FTCA attorney. An experienced attorney may want to hire experts to evaluate your case and to estimate your future medical needs.
If you are suffering from a catastrophic physical injury due to the carelessness of the United States government, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Contact a federal tort attorney to find out if you are eligible to be compensated for your losses.
FTCA cases are complicated. With deep experience representing victims and their families in complex federal litigation, our law firm has the resources and expertise to help you maximize your recovery. We have a well-documented record of successful settlements in cases against the government. Our experienced lawyers are ready to get started on your claim right away.
One example of a FTCA settlement that we were able to help a victim with involved an extremely tragic and serious birth injury. A patient at the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri was a victim of medical malpractice. The pregnant patient came to the hospital in labor and because of the negligence of the United States Government (in this case an employee of the government), her child sustained a permanent and lifelong injury.
During delivery, our client’s fetal monitoring alerted providers to multiple episodes of bradycardia that went ignored. Failure to properly interpret fetal monitoring and failure to properly resuscitate at birth caused irreparable personal injury: global brain damage. Because the injury occurred at a federal government hospital and the negligent or wrongful act or omission occurred within the scope of their employment, the individual provider does not bear liability. Instead, in accordance with the Federal Tort Claims Act, the U.S. Government authorized a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, and the injured individuals were able to seek damages.
Our experienced tort claims attorneys assisted with the preparation of the initial claim against the Army and were able to negotiate an administrative settlement for our client prior to going to trial. Our clients received $7.38 million dollars in lifetime benefits after court costs and attorneys’ fees.
You can see our national success on our case results page. Here are just a few of the cases we have won against the Army, Navy, Air Force, VA, and Postal Service:
Sutherland Springs mass shooting – A federal judge found the United States 60% at fault for their role in a tragic mass shooting event that took place in Texas. National Trial Law attorneys served as lead counsel representing victims. A federal judge in Texas awarded $230,000.00 in damages. Click to read more.
Air Force Medical Malpractice Birth Injury $20,000,000 judgment after appeal $15,752,732 received by clients with lifetime benefits $5,311,982 attorneys’ fees $232,364 litigation expenses Dickerson v. United States Sheppard Air Force Base Hospital Infant injured at birth as a result of pregnancy induced hypertension. Air Force providers failed to perform…
Army Medical Malpractice Birth Injury $23,250,000 awarded on appeal $18,967,710 received by clients with lifetime benefits $6,347,611 attorneys’ fees $203,577 litigation expenses Lebron v. United States Fort Hood, Texas At Darnall Army Community Hospital, a doctor’s improper use of forceps crushed a baby’s skull, leading to massive brain damage, requiring…
Veterans Affairs Stroke Misdiagnosis $21,592,643.03 trial judgment $15,884,511.98 in trust for clients with lifetime benefits $5,398,160.76 attorneys’ fees $309,970.29 litigation expenses Farley v. United States VAMC Manchester, N.H. Our client went to the Manchester Veterans Affairs with a minor stroke. The providers failed to diagnose the cause of his stroke…
Army Medical Malpractice Birth Injury $12,000,000 post-trial settlement $8,704,761 received by clients with lifetime benefits $3,000,000 attorneys’ fees $295,238 litigation expenses Dominguez v. United States Darnall Army Community Hospital At Fort Hood Army Base in Killeen, Texas, providers failed to properly respond to a fetal heart rate monitor, causing the…
Navy Medical Malpractice Birth Injury $12,500,000 settlement $9,183,752 received by clients with lifetime benefits $3,125,000 attorneys’ fees $191,248 litigation expenses Brown v. United States Naval Branch Health Clinic, Millington, TN Navy doctors failed to properly prescribe prenatal vitamins containing folic acid which resulted in our client suffering a devastating spinal…
Army Medical Malpractice Birth Injury $7,384,854 received by clients with lifetime benefits $2,500,000 attorneys’ fees $115,143.23 litigation expenses Guill v. United States General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital (ACH) Failure to properly interpret fetal monitoring and failure to properly resuscitate at birth caused global brain damage. During delivery, our client’s…
How much can you get from a tort claim?
Damages for a Federal Tort Claims Act case are capped in accordance with the law of the place where the act occurred. So, if you are injured in a traffic accident with a government vehicle in Texas, any payments you might receive from a claim against the appropriate agency would be limited in accordance with the laws of the state of Texas.
What falls under a tort claim?
The Federal Tort Claims Act was created to allow persons to obtain compensation when they are the victim of a tort committed by the government. This means the federal government waives its sovereign immunity and agrees to consider claims for personal injury or property damage caused by the negligent act or omission of an agent or employee of a federal agency acting within the scope of their employment.
The act does not cover intentional acts that cause injury except in certain cases concerning law enforcement officers. Active-duty military personnel are not eligible to file claims under this act but may seek relief under the Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019.
What happens after a tort claim is filed?
After a claim is filed, the government has six months to review the information set forth in Standard Form 95 and respond. The government can pay the claim as submitted, dispute the dollar amount, deny the claim, or fail to respond.
After six months, if the government has denied the claim, disputed the amount requested, or failed to respond, the plaintiff may file a lawsuit against the federal agency in United States District Court.