The post office is perhaps the most obvious example of the United States government operating federally owned vehicles to conduct official business. Other examples include military drivers, FBI and federal agents, and workers representing the US Department of Transportation.
Before 1946, the US government was immune from suit and civil claims through the doctrine of “sovereign immunity.” Thus, if an agent of the government caused an accident, the victim was barred from bringing any claims. This law was changed through enactment of the Federal Tort Claims Act. The federal statutes that embody the act are 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), 28 U.S.C. 1402(b), 28 U.S.C. 2401(b), 28 U.S.C. 2402, and 28 U.S.C. 2671–2680. The various departments and agencies of the government will also have their own regulations that impose notice requirements and rules that must be followed to collect from any employee or agency of that department.
The FTCA provides a remedy and source of federal money for parties injured by government employee negligence. The liability (blame and responsibility for the accident) of the federal agent is determined by state law. We look to North Carolina traffic laws and other state laws to determine whether the victim can collect for injuries and property loss from the federal government. Thus, while the procedural rules change in FTCA cases, all of the advice in this book concerning how to prove fault and how to collect for all damages apply in these cases.
Strict notice requirements apply. Failure to provide a proper and timely notice to the appropriate federal agency bars all claims. Also, in most cases, there is a single-claim limit, meaning that property loss and injury claims must be presented together. For example, if the US Post Office pays for your vehicle damage, they will close the file and legally refuse later payment of your injury claims.
Attorneys’ fees are limited to 20 percent of the settlement and 25 percent if a hearing or trial is required to secure judgment. Victims in these cases should always have representation due to the limited fee structure and the complexity of these cases. Attorneys who overcharge victims of accidents caused by federal agents are subject to criminal prosecution!
Prejudgment interest and punitive damages are precluded under the FTCA. Also, if a trial is necessary, the forum is limited to a non-jury trial before a US District Court judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2402. Before filing suit in US District Court, the claimant must first provide notice to the responsible agency and must present the complete statement of the claim for damages to the responsible agency for adjudication.
The FTCA statute of limitations requires the full claim be presented to the appropriate government agency within two years of accrual. The claimant must file a federal court complaint within six months of the agency’s denial of the administrative claim or anytime six months after presenting the claim if there is no responsive action or reply from the agency.