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Public Duty Doctrine

Definition - What does Public Duty Doctrine mean?

Public duty doctrine is the legal concept which holds that a governmental entity cannot be held liable or sued if they cause injury to an individual while performing duties owed to the general public (i.e., while engaging in uniquely governmental functions or those not ordinarily performed by private individuals). Public duty protection comes from the federal structure of the U.S. Constitution, although it can be waived through explicit action.

Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA)

Under some conditions, outlined in the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), some individuals are allowed to recover damages if they are injured from the negligent action of a governmental entity if the individual can prove the governmental entity was a private individual and the individual breached their duty.

There are two main exceptions to public duty doctrine immunity: special duty and egregious conduct.

First, to prove special duty you can prove that you"had prior contact with the state or municipal officials, and these officials then either knowingly or should have known that the officials' course of conduct could endanger you."

Under the FTCA, you also may recover damages if the government worker's conduct was especially egregious, which means the government entity "had knowledge that their actions could create a circumstance that forced an individual into a position of peril and subsequently chose not to remedy the situation."

Other requirements under the FTCA allow only federal employees (not contractors) to be sued; for the conduct to have been committed within the scope of the government worker's employment; and that the claim in question must be permitted under the law of the state where the action occurred.

Consider, however, unless you can prove the Federal Tort Claims Act will allow you to file a personal injury claim, it is likely you will not be able to file a suit because of sovereign immunity.

Filing an Administrative Claim

Assuming your injury claim is allowed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, you will have to file your claim of misconduct with the federal agency which is responsible for your injury. This process differs from a traditional injury claim which can be filed in court.

To file your administrative claim you can complete a Standard Form 95 or SF 95. The federal agency will review your claim in what they call an administrative claim review process and make their decision. All administrative claims must be filed within two years from the date of your injury.

The federal agency has six months to review the administrative claim. They will either agree to pay the damages specified in your claim or allow you to proceed to court. If they deny your claim you have six months from the date of denial to file a case in court. If it takes the federal agency more than six months to review your case the time limit to file a claim in court does not start until they complete their ruling.

Consider, however, if the six month time period has expired you have the choice to continue to wait for the agency ruling or to proceed with your lawsuit. Claimants cannot file a lawsuit until they have exhausted their administrative remedies, which means they have given the federal agency at least six months to review their claim.

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