Can I Sue the Government for Negligence?

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:

  • A quick overview of the process
  • What the Federal Tort Claims Act is and why it matters
  • Understanding negligence
  • The difference between bringing a claim against a federal or state entity
  • Bringing a claim against a government entity is difficult
  • When you might want to involve a personal injury attorney

What You Must Do Before Filing a Lawsuit

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.

What is the Federal Tort Claims Act?

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.

You Must Prove Negligence

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.”

For instance:

  • Drivers have a duty of care to abide by all traffic safety laws.
  • Property owners have a duty of care to keep their premises safe for guests – or at least warn them of known hazards.
  • Doctors have a duty of care to review their patients’ allergies and current medications before prescribing new ones.

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.

Examples of Negligence

So, when might the government be guilty of negligence? Here are a few examples.

  • Motor vehicle accidents. This could happen if you were the victim of a collision with a police officer, postal worker, or military vehicle.
  • Slip and fall accidents. You might have a claim if you were seriously injured due to a hazard on government property, such as a courthouse. This could also include property maintained by a city or state, such as dangerous sidewalks or roads.
  • Medical malpractice. If you were harmed at a military hospital or medical facility, you could pursue a federal claim.

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.

Filing a Claim Against a Federal vs State Entity

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.

Relevant Washington State Laws about Dangerous Sidewalks

The table below outlines Washington State laws that deal with a dangerous or hazardous sidewalk.

Federal ClaimWashington State Claim
Form to fileStandard Form 95Washington State Claim Form SF #210
Deadline to file your claimWithin 2 years of incidentWithin 3 years of incident
Where to submit your claimSubmit to the federal agency you believe is responsible for the incidentDept of Enterprise Services
Office of Risk Management
1500 Jefferson Street SE, MS 41466
Olympia, WA 98504-1466
Fax: (360) 407-8022
How to submit formVaries on the agencyMail, email, fax, or deliver in-person
Who decides your claimVaries on the agencyOffice of Risk Management
When you can file a lawsuit180 days after submitting claim60 days after submitting claim
What court will hear your caseFederal courtState court

Winning a Claim Against the Government is Challenging

If it’s not clear by now, let’s state the obvious. Winning a claim against the government isn’t easy. Here’s why:

  • Process and procedures can be difficult to navigate
  • Burden is on you (victim) to prove negligence
  • Government entities have special privileges and resources that the average person does not have
  • They have the upper hand in being well versed in handling these types of situations

Even if you have been wronged, proving it and getting a city or state to pay you what’s right doesn’t always happen.

Should you Involve a Lawyer?

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.

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