Written by attorney June Yang Cutter

Simple Overview of Government Tort Claims

Speaking from experience, there are a lot of hoops to jump through before you can sue the Federal government. Simply put, you cannot even sue the government unless the government says you can! Many claims against the government are flat out barred. Limited tort claims (negligence, slip and fall, etc.) are governed by the Federal Tort Claims Act, which requires the exhaustion of administrative remedies before you can even file a lawsuit. An administrative claim against the Federal government must be filed with the wrongdoing agency within 2 years from the date your claim arises. The agency then gets 6 months to respond. Once your claim is rejected, as they most often are, you have only 6 months from the date of rejection to file a lawsuit in the appropriate Federal court. You cannot sue the Federal government in state court; and if you are dealing with a breach of contract, that lawsuit can only be filed in the Court of Federal Claims based in Washington DC.

Tip: Make sure to file your administrative claim early in case the government disputes the exact date on which your claim arose, which is a means of rejecting the claim as untimely.

There are just as many hoops to jump through when suing the state or county or any local municipality. Before you can sue any government entity, you must exhaust your administrative remedies. This starts with an administrative claim filed with the appropriate government entity – each has their own forms and rules, which you must read and follow carefully! You can file a lawsuit once your claim has been rejected or ignored, but your damages are typically limited to the amount noticed in your administrative claim.

Tip: Take care to properly quantify your damages before making the claim.

Of course, there are some exceptions to this requirement – such as claims for government taking of land which do not require the exhaustion of administrative remedies. But there are even more immunities which apply to the government’s benefit, protecting them from certain suits – for example, in California, you cannot sue the state for fraud!

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