Car Accidents Caused By Federal Employees

Posted By Matthew Clawson || 2-Feb-2015

Think about all the federal government workers driving around in our community: the postal workers (including contract rural mail carriers), civilian employees of the many government agencies with offices here (Department of Defense, FEMA, U.S. Forest Service, etc.), and the many members of the Armed Forces who drive off-base in connection with their duty. If you are injured in a car accident caused by an employee of the United States government, can you receive compensation for your injury?

The answer is: yes you can be compensated for an injury caused by the negligence of a federal government employee, while the employee is on-duty, but it may not be easy to navigate the United States tort (injury) claim system on your own.

The first challenge will be to figure out if a U.S. government employee was involved. If you are hit by a postal truck, it is easy to recognize that you have been injured by a federal employee in the "course and scope of his employment" (the legal standard for liability of the United States). But sometimes, it may not be obvious that the driver is a federal employee, especially when he or she is in civilian clothes and is driving his/her own car or a rental car. As stressful as it may be after the accident, take pictures of the other car—especially the license plate. Government vehicles often have "U.S. Government" license plates. Additionally, listen to the comments of the other driver after the collision to hear clues as to where he/she was coming from or going to. If you do hear something that would lead you to believe that the other driver was on government business, try to follow up with the driver to confirm what federal agency he/she works for.

When it is undisputed that you were injured by a federal employee in the course and scope of his employment with the U.S. government, you probably will be quickly contacted by other federal employees whose job it is to resolve injury claims that may be made against the U.S. government. You will be asked to present complete documentation of the nature and scope of your injuries, as well as all kinds of information about your own auto and health insurance. It is possible that, under these circumstances, your claim can be resolved on your own.

But if there is any dispute as to who was at fault for the accident, or a dispute as to whether your injuries were caused by the accident, the process becomes complex because these kinds of claims are governed by United States statutes and federal regulations. Although Colorado law may be applied to determine some aspects of the claim, federal statutes and regulations can make the federal tort claim process difficult to navigate—with many traps to catch the unwary.

The first, and most important, thing to remember is that your claim will be lost and denied unless you present an "administrative claim" in writing within 2 years of the collision to the federal agency who employed the driver. The administrative claim must be presented by filling out "Form 95" of the U.S. Government and mailed to the federal agency (or military service department) that employed the driver. Failure to use the proper form may cause the claim to be denied.

The Form 95 must be completely filled out and signed by the person claiming for the damages. If more than one person is making a claim from the accident, each person who makes a claim must fill out a separate Form 95.

All documentation in support of the claim must accompany the Form 95. This would include the police report, medical records, medical bills and the like—even if these documents had been previously provided to the federal employee who was working with you to try to resolve the claim. You may be required to provide additional documentation after the Form 95 is received and reviewed.

If the claim cannot be properly resolved during the administrative claim process, you will have only six months after the final offer is made to file a lawsuit against the United States in federal court. Failure to timely file the lawsuit will result in your claim being denied. Your case will be decided by a judge, not a jury, but otherwise will be handled with all the pomp and process of any other federal case.

Consider consulting with experienced auto injury attorneys, such as those at Clawson & Clawson LLP, before you embark on a federal tort claim on your own. By federal law, the attorney fee for helping injured parties pursue a federal tort claim is capped at 20% of the recovery—unless a federal lawsuit is filed, in which case the fee is capped at 25% of the recovery.

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