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Can You Sue the Government If a Federal Employee Causes Your Car Accident?

When it comes to determining liability for a car accident, a driver’s employer may be held responsible under Tennessee law for acts of their employees. For example, if a delivery van driver is reckless and hits another car while traveling his route, the victim can seek damages against the delivery company. But what happens when the reckless driver works for the government?

In general, a person may not sue the state or federal government unless a specific law permits such lawsuits. This is known as “sovereign immunity,” the concept that the state cannot be sued in its own courts without its consent. With respect to personal injury cases, Congress has waived federal sovereign immunity through a law called the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Under the FTCA, “the United States shall be liable … in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual” when it comes to personal injury claims brought under state law. The FTCA does, however, prohibit recovery of any punitive damages or pre-judgment interest.

Seeking Damages Against a Reckless Postal Worker

Recently, a federal judge in Memphis addressed a personal injury lawsuit brought under the FTCA. The victim was driving his pickup truck through an intersection in Memphis when a tractor trailer ran a red light and hit the truck, injuring its driver. The United States Postal Service owned the tractor trailer.

The driver later sued the United States Government for damages in connection with the accident. (Although the Postal Service is a private corporation in some respects, it is considered a government agency for purposes of the FTCA.) The government conceded its driver caused the accident, so the only issue for the court to decide was the extent of the victim’s injuries and how much compensation he would receive.

In a June 12 decision, U.S. District Judge S. Thomas Anderson awarded the victim just over $97,000 in damages. This included about $13,000 for medical expenses incurred due to the accident, $33,000 for estimated future medical bills—the victim continues to suffer from back and neck pain four years after the accident—and $50,000 for pain and suffering plus “loss of enjoyment of life.” Judge Anderson did not award the victim any damages for “loss of future earnings,” as he was not working at the time of the accident.

It is important to note when calculating damages in an FTCA case like this one, the court is bound to follow Tennessee law. The FTCA merely establishes conditions when the federal government can be subject to a particular state’s law. And as noted above, the FTCA prevented the victim from even seeking punitive damages or pre-judgment interest, which Tennessee law would permit against a private defendant.

Need Help From One of Our Attorneys?

Whether you are injured as the result of a government employee’s negligence or just a private party’s reckless driving, it is important you seek the assistance of an experienced Tennessee personal injury attorney. The attorneys at Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette in Clinton and Knoxville provide professional representation in all types of personal injury cases. Contact us today to speak with someone as soon as possible.

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