Federal Tort Claims Act: Can You Sue the United States Government?


The quick answer to the question “Can you sue the US government?” is “Yes,” but that has not always been the case. Prior to 1946, when the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA” or “Act”) was passed, a legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity prevented citizens from being able to take their government to court. While it is now possible for you to sue the federal government, it is far different from suing another individual citizen and can take much longer.

The History of the FTCA

In 1946 the Federal Tort Claims Act was passed and became law. But, it wasn’t a new law. The FTCA was under debate for decades prior to its enactment, but it never passed. What finally spurred its passing was a plane crash in 1945. Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith, Jr. was piloting a B-25 Mitchell bomber from Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts to Newark Airport in Newark, New Jersey.

He was told there was zero visibility due to fog when he requested permission to land but decided to proceed anyway. Smith then made a right turn instead of a left turn and crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building. Three men on the aircraft, including Smith, and eleven people in the building were killed. Not only did this accident spur the passing of the long-debated Act, but Congress made the statute retroactive so that those affected by the accident would be allowed to sue the government.

FTCA Requirements and Processes

When John Doe drives 45 miles over the speed limit and causes an accident resulting in injury, he is negligent. If you were injured in that accident, you could file a lawsuit against John Doe seeking to recover the cost of your medical bills, the damage to your car, and/or the loss of your income since you can’t work due to your injury. The FTCA’s intent is to provide that same opportunity to you if an employee of the government injures you. The difference lies in the procedure of suing and the requirements to sue.

You are permitted to sue the federal government under the FTCA if:

  • You were injured, or your property was damaged, by an employee of the federal government within the past two years
  • The employee was acting within the scope of his or her official duties
  • The employee acted negligently or wrongfully
  • The negligent or wrongful act proximately caused the injury or damage

While there are more exceptions and limitations to the FTCA, those are the basic elements that must be met in order to have a case. If you believe you do have a case, there is also a procedure you must follow. First, you must file an administrative case with the agency for which the employee works. For example, if a United States Post Office employee was driving his vehicle negligently and crashed into you, you would file an administrative case with the U.S. Post Office. The agency – whether it’s the Post Office or another federal agency – would then have six months to adjudicate your administrative case. The agency may deny your claim or admit your claim. Once the agency issues its decision, you will have six months to file your lawsuit. If the agency admits your claim, however, they make a monetary offer. If you accept that offer, you will be barred from pursuing the claim in court.

If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident, find an experienced accident attorney in your area.

Lynn Fugaro About Lynn Fugaro

Lynn has been writing web content since 2007 after a lengthy career as a middle school English teacher and administrator. Writing web content seemed a natural progression following a career teaching adolescents about the beauty and the power of the written word, and she quickly got hooked on the challenge of writing SEO- and reader-friendly content that could be found on Page 1 of Google and other search engines.

Having written content for physicians and attorneys for the first few years of her writing career, Lynn has most recently produced original, informative, entertaining, and relevant content for the entertainment industry, the automotive industry, senior communities, pet rescues and numerous other businesses hoping to increase website traffic and page views for all clients looking for informative, vibrant content.