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Sovereign Immunity

Definition - What does Sovereign Immunity mean?

Sovereign immunity is the legal notion that the United States federal, state, and local governments cannot be sued but rather enjoys immunity from tort or other litigious actions. Sovereign immunity, however, can be waived if the government gives its consent to the suit and allows the plaintiff to sue to recover compensation for their loss or injury.

Over the last one hundred years, however, the notion of sovereign immunity has been eroded. Specifically, with the Federal Tort Claims Act (28 U.S.C.§2674) which was passed in 1946. Under this action the federal government waived its immunity and began to redefine the limits of immunity for certain governmental entities and employees.

Suing the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act

Suing the federal government will not be as simple as suing an individual, but the Federal Tort Claims Act does allow compensation and tort claims against certain federal employees who are acting within the scope of their employment.

More specifically, if you have been injured or suffered loss from the negligent action of a government employee you may be allowed to request compensation. Not all claims, however, will qualify for compensation under FTCA.

For example, the worker cannot be an independent contractor, the injury must have occurred within the scope of the defendant's employment, the claim must be for negligence, and the claim must be permitted by the state in which the offense occurred.

How do I file my negligence claim against the Federal government?

Unlike a personal injury tort against another person which can be filed directly in court, if you are injured by a government worker and you are filing a claim under FTCA you will have to file an administrative claim directly with the federal agency where the worker is employed. Consider, however, there will be a limited time from the date of your injury to file your claim. Failure to file your claim within the legal statute of limitations will result in the loss of your ability to file a claim and to receive compensation for your loss and/or injury.

After the administrative claim has been filed the agency has six months to review the claim. They may decide to admit the claim and pay the damages (or part of the damages you requested) or they may deny your personal injury claim.

If your personal injury claim is denied you have six months to file your claim in court. If, however, the agency has not ruled on your case within six months you have two choices: continue to wait for a decision from the governmental agency or proceed with your case and file your case in federal court.

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