Here’s the short answer: yes, you can sue the government.
But you’ll probably be unsurprised to hear that there’s a longer, more complicated answer to this question. Our goal in this blog post is to help explain in plain, easy-to-understand language what you need to know about filing a lawsuit against the government.
Some of the main topics we’ll cover in this post include:
Before you file a lawsuit, you must file a claim. On the claim’s form, you’ll list key information about what happened to you and when. Importantly, you’ll also state clearly how much compensation you are seeking. Each agency may have its own form and requirements, so you’ll want to make sure you understand who you’re trying to hold accountable. We’ll discuss this a bit more fully later in the post.
Filling out and submitting a form sounds relatively straightforward. But there are many chances to make mistakes. The form must be sent to the right department and within a strict timeframe. Also, you must have solid supporting evidence that negligence was the cause of your injury. It’s a good idea to reach out to a personal injury lawyer who is familiar with the process and can submit the paperwork on your behalf.
The Federal Tort Claims Act (the “FTCA”) is a law that passed in 1946, allowing individuals to sue the government for specific tort claims, just like you’d sue a regular person or a business. Now, here’s the thing: the government usually has this protection called “sovereign immunity,” which shields it from a lot of legal drama. Before the FTCA came along, if the government caused you harm, you were pretty much out of luck in seeking compensation.
While the FTCA doesn’t completely erase sovereign immunity, it does open a door. With the FTCA, you get a chance to go after compensation, but only if you can successfully prove that the government goofed up and was negligent.
Here’s why the FTC matters for the average citizen: it’s your pathway to justice and compensation if the government’s negligence led to your injury. If you can show that the government slipped up and caused you harm, the FTCA gives you an opportunity to get what’s rightfully yours.
It’s important to understand that not every accident is reason to file a claim. To have a successful claim, you’ll have to prove that the government entity was negligent in some way – and that their negligence caused your injury.
What does “negligence” mean? Negligence happens when someone fails to take reasonable action to keep others safe. We call this reasonable action a “duty of care.”
Any personal injury case – whether it’s against a person, business, or the State of Washington, rests on your ability to prove that a duty of care was broken. In other words, that they were negligent.
So, when might the government be guilty of negligence? Here are a few examples.
Of course, these are just a few examples. The important thing to remember is that you can bring a claim against a government employee if they were acting within the scope of their employment.
It’s important that you identify and file your claim with the correct entity. In fact, failure to get it right could mean you get your claim thrown out entirely. No second chances.
The table below outlines the different requirements for filing a federal claim for the State of Washington. If you reside in a different state, your state’s requirements may differ.
The table below outlines Washington State laws that deal with a dangerous or hazardous sidewalk.
|Federal Claim||Washington State Claim|
|Form to file||Standard Form 95||Washington State Claim Form SF #210|
|Deadline to file your claim||Within 2 years of incident||Within 3 years of incident|
|Where to submit your claim||Submit to the federal agency you believe is responsible for the incident||Dept of Enterprise Services|
Office of Risk Management
1500 Jefferson Street SE, MS 41466
Olympia, WA 98504-1466
Fax: (360) 407-8022
|How to submit form||Varies on the agency||Mail, email, fax, or deliver in-person|
|Who decides your claim||Varies on the agency||Office of Risk Management|
|When you can file a lawsuit||180 days after submitting claim||60 days after submitting claim|
|What court will hear your case||Federal court||State court|
If it’s not clear by now, let’s state the obvious. Winning a claim against the government isn’t easy. Here’s why:
Even if you have been wronged, proving it and getting a city or state to pay you what’s right doesn’t always happen.
As you can see, there are a lot of details when it comes to filling a lawsuit against a government employee or department. It can be very easy to get your case dismissed simply because you got a detail wrong on your claim form or missed a deadline. Don’t let this happen to you.
We highly recommend you involve a qualified injury attorney anytime you need to file a federal or state claim. Our attorneys always offer free consultations. In other words, we can help determine if you have a case at no cost or obligation to you. In the event we can help, we’ll handle all the necessary paperwork on your behalf. Plus, we’ll be ready to file that lawsuit if we can’t negotiate a fair settlement.
Given how difficult it is to successfully bring a suit against the government, we highly recommend you have legal representation.