Automobile Accidents Involving the Government

July 7, 2015

It’s no secret that an automobile accident can happen at any time and at any place. Just as anyone can be injured in an automobile accident, so too can anyone be the cause of an automobile accident. In any case, identifying who is responsible can change how a case proceeds. For example, bringing a case against an employer of an individual who has caused an accident would look much different from a case against a private citizen. This can be especially problematic when the person responsible for the automobile accident is a government employee. While the government does have some protections from civil claims under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, the law also provides victims with a way to recover damages.

The Federal Tort Claims Act

Even though the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which protects the government from most civil claims, might seem like a barrier that cannot be crossed, there are federal laws that  allow citizens to bring an action against the government. One such law is the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which allows those who have been injured by the government, or by government employees, to bring an action against the government. Even though the FTCA allows citizens to sue the government for damages related to an accident or injury, there are some limitations put in place by the FTCA. For example, punitive damages would be unavailable to a plaintiff suing the government under the FTCA.

Prerequisites

While the FTCA does allow everyday citizens who have been injured by the government to bring an action in court, there are certain requirements that must be met in order for a case to proceed under the FTCA. While there are several requirements under the FTCA, three of the major ones include the employment status of the responsible party, whether the employee was acting within the scope of his employment, and finally, whether there is any basis for the claim under state law.

Employment

While you might think it common sense that the government can be held responsible for the actions of its employees, there is a line that is drawn between employees and “independent contractors.” Whereas the government would generally be responsible for the tortious actions of its employees, it would not typically be responsible for actions of independent contractors.

Scope of Employment

Next, is the matter of the scope of employment. Just as the government cannot be held responsible for the actions of non-employees, the behavior and actions of an employee can greatly affect the outcome of a case. This is because the government will only be responsible for an employee’s actions if the employee was acting within the scope of employment during the time of the accident. Interestingly enough, determining when an employee is engaged in business activities can be difficult, especially since courts have found that detours or engaging in personal matters can destroy the employee’s connection.

Legal Basis

Finally, there is the requirement that the case be brought under the laws of the state in which it occurred. While this seems clear-cut, the outcome can be less certain due to differences in law between jurisdictions. What may be a simple matter in one state might be a more nuanced and complex one in another.

Contact an Attorney

Navigating through the legal system after a car accident can be stressful and complicated, especially if the person responsible is a public employee. Fortunately, you do not have to go through it alone. If you are looking for a passionate attorney in South Carolina, contact the David Aylor Law Offices for a free case evaluation.

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