Claims against the postal service can be tricky because the law with respect to these types of claims is unique. Unfortunately, injured parties cannot simply file a lawsuit against postal service like you would against any other negligent driver. Instead, you must comply with the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). Running afoul of the FTCA might negatively affect your rights. As such, you need an experienced personal injury lawyer Memphis trusts to help you navigate this unique area of law.
A brief history on suits against the federal government
Years ago, people could not even sue the federal government based on the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity, which is basically lawyer-talk for the notion that the government has to give you permission to sue it. Stated differently, the federal government has to waive its sovereign immunity and consent to being sued. Thankfully, Congress did just that by passing the Federal Tort Claims Act in 1946. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671-2680.
Specifically, the FTCA allows suit against the federal government:
[F]or money damages . . . for injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1).
As you can see, the FTCA is broad in that it allows injured parties to bring suit for the negligence of a government employee. However, there are several unique aspects of the FTCA that can be tricky.
What’s different about claims brought under the FTCA?
The most significant difference between filing a claim against a private individual and bringing one against the federal government for its employee’s negligence is the pre-lawsuit administrative process. For claims brought under the FTCA, claimants must file a claim with the appropriate federal agency before filing their lawsuit. 28 U.S.C. 2675(a). If the claimant does not comply with the administrative claims procedure, he or she cannot file suit in federal court and risks losing his or her rights altogether.
Statute of limitations
Another notable difference is the statute of limitations for FTCA claims. The FTCA replaces the state statute of limitations with a federal statute. See Chomic v. United States, 377 F.3d 607, 610 (6th Cir. 2004). FTCA claims are subject to two (2) different limitations periods under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b)(1):
A tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred unless it is presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues or unless action is begun within six months after the date of mailing, by certified or registered mail, of notice of final denial of the claim by the agency to which it was presented.
As you can see, the FTCA essentially has two (2) different statutes of limitations. One for the administrative claim and another for the eventual lawsuit if the claim is denied or ignored.
Another significant difference is that the FTCA establishes a cap for attorney fees of 25% for litigated matters and 20% for claims resolved during the administrative process. 28 U.S.C. § 2678.
Exceptions to the waiver of sovereign immunity
Under the FTCA, there are several types of claims for which the federal government retains its sovereign immunity and does not let individuals file suit regardless of whether a federal employee was negligent. This is commonly referred to as an exception to the waiver of sovereign immunity. One notable exception is for discretionary functions. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2680(a), injured parties cannot sue the federal government for “[a]ny claim based upon an act or omission of an employee of the Government, exercising due care, in the execution of a statute or regulation, whether or not such statute or regulation be valid, or based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency or an employee of the Government, whether or not the discretion involved be abused.” Application of the discretionary function exception can be complex. At its core, though, the discretionary function applies (meaning the government cannot be sued) when a government employee is exercising permissible policy judgment. Stated differently, the exception does not apply when there is a violation of a mandatory policy. See United States v. Gaubert, 499 U.S. 315, 322-325 (1991).
The discretionary function exception along with several others can be difficult to analyze and tricky to navigate. If you have been injured in an accident with a USPS employee, you need an attorney that understands the unique requirements for bringing claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
If you need help with a potential FTCA claim, call us today at (901) 372-5003 for a free consultation.