Bay Area Government Liability Lawyer

The Bay Area accident attorneys at Sterns & Walker can represent individuals in claims against the government anywhere in the country and internationally.

Federal Tort Claims Act

Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, the U.S. government cannot be sued unless it consents.  Fortunately, Congress has passed the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which allows private persons to sue the United States and its agencies in certain circumstances.  Under the FTCA, the head of each federal agency is authorized to settle personal injury, property damage, or wrongful death claims caused by a negligent or wrongful act.  However, no lawsuit may be pursued against the government without first presenting a claim to the relevant agency to give the agency the opportunity to approve or deny the claim.

In a lawsuit against the government, the injured party must prove that the government would have been liable as a private person, according to the law where the negligent act or omission occurred.  The government has all the typical defenses available to it, as well as any governmental immunities that may be relevant.  One major difference lies in the area of damages; the U.S. is not liable for prejudgment interest or punitive damages, and attorneys fees are capped at 20% of a settlement or 25% of a judgment.

There are several statutory exceptions to the above process, including postal matters, tax matters, discretionary acts of officers, and injuries caused by combatant activities during times of war.  The “discretionary function” defense is the primary argument against government liability.

As to accidents occurring overseas, the FTCA does not apply.  Congress, however, has enacted the Military Claims Act (used by U.S. victims in the “Ron Brown” case) and the Foreign Claims Act, available to residents of foreign countries harmed by non-combat activities of the U.S.

Marine Jet Crash in the News

In December 2008, a U.S. Marine jet lost power in both engines and crashed into a densely populated neighborhood in San Diego, destroying two homes and damaging others, killing all four occupants of one of the homes.  The student pilot, who ejected safely, was on a training exercise when the jet failed.  It has since come to light that mechanics knew of the jet’s faulty fuel transfer system six months earlier, but continued to fly the jet without making necessary repairs.  Also, the pilot had been recommended to take an ocean approach and land at North Island Landing Base, but instead opted to fly over a residential area in an attempt to make Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.  This is a typical actionable claim under the FTCA.

For assistance in pursuing a claim or cause of action against the government for damages caused by its negligence or wrongful conduct, contact the Law Offices of Sterns & Walker today.