Imagine you enter a federal office building, and while you're riding in an elevator things go haywire. The elevator lurches upward so fast that you take a serious tumble and injure yourself. Such an accident was clearly not your fault, but can you sue the federal government to recover damages?
The short answer is, yes, you can sue the federal government for premises liability damages in many cases under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).
What is the FTCA?
The FTCA became law in 1964. Before this act became law, the federal government was immune to personal injury lawsuits and citizens could not sue the federal government following a slip-and-fall style injury on federal property. By virtue of the FTCA, injured parties can seek damages relating to personal injuries, property damages and wrongful death resulting from the negligence of a government employee.
In order for an FTCA claim to be valid, the negligently acting government employee must have been acting within the course and scope of federal employment and -- at the time of the negligence -- the employee was serving a governmental purpose. In other words, if the employee was doing something unrelated to his or her employment and it resulted in an injury, the injured party might not be able to make an FTCA claim. Government contractors could also be liable, in some cases, where the contractor was performing job duties on behalf of the government, and the federal government had the capacity to supervise those activities.
Federal premises liability law is different
Those who have suffered a slip-and-fall injury on federal property may be able to pursue a monetary damage recovery based on medical costs, lost wages and other categories of damages. Ultimately, the procedure for pursuing these damages will fall under the jurisdiction of the FTCA. However, New Mexico law will be used to determine the liability of the government if the accident and injuries on federal property happened in New Mexico.
It's important for plaintiffs to remember that FTCA rules create a two-year statute of limitation. In other words, plaintiffs must make their claims in writing before two years have passed following the accident or they will forever be barred from doing so. As such, it's vital that plaintiffs act on their potential claims against the federal government as soon as possible after an injury.