DETROIT, MI, October 11, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/
-- Government activities touch much of our everyday lives and those activities can do as much harm as any others. Although it is possible for Michigan private plaintiffs to sue the federal government for some harmful errors, Federal Tort Claims Act
cases (FTCA) impose a complicated set of prerequisites. In one recent FTCA decision, a Navy veteran found himself barred from the courts because he did not satisfy those requirements.
Glade's Lawsuit Against the VA
Sixty-four-year-old Ronald Glade tried to sue a Veterans Affairs hospital
after a mental health therapist sexually abused him. Glade served in the Navy as a young man until several mental health issues forced his discharge. His mental disorders stemmed, in part, from a history of sexual abuse as a child.
As a veteran, Glade was able to receive ongoing treatment and therapy for these disorders through the VA. Starting in 2007, however, Glade's therapist forced him into an ongoing sexual relationship with her. The sexual abuse worsened Glade's disorders and he sought to sue the VA for damages resulting from its failure to appropriately supervise the therapist.
Unfortunately, a federal court of appeals affirmed the lower court's dismissal of Glade's claim. This decision emphasizes the complexity of FTCA cases and the hoops that plaintiffs must jump through before bringing a lawsuit.
The FTCA: Permission to Sue?
Until Congress enacted the FTCA in 1946, private plaintiffs could not sue the federal government. The traditional rule of "sovereign immunity" applied to prevent all suits. But the FTCA opened up some circumstances under which a plaintiff can bring claims against the government
However, the FTCA limits those lawsuits by requiring plaintiffs to file them in a particular way. Rather than bringing a lawsuit directly to a court, plaintiffs must "exhaust administrative remedies." This generally means that a plaintiff must start by submitting a written claim to the government agency involved in the dispute. The claim must usually state the damages and explain the agency's wrongful conduct.
A time limit also applies to this initial step: The plaintiff must submit the claim within two years of the wrongful conduct.
After the plaintiff submits a written claim, he or she must wait for the agency to respond. In the unlikely event that the agency agrees to pay the claim, the plaintiff will not need to proceed to a lawsuit. But if the plaintiff receives no response from the agency for six months, the plaintiff can file a suit. Similarly, if the agency denies the claim in writing within six months of receiving it, then the plaintiff may also begin a suit. However, if the agency does respond with a denial, then a second time limit requires the plaintiff to file the lawsuit within another six months.
In essence, the agency's rejection or failure to respond to a claim
acts as a plaintiff's ticket to the court system.
Do Not Pass Go: Dismissed for Failure to Exhaust
In Glade's case, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that he did not exhaust his remedies by properly submitting his claim to the agency. But because Glade did actually file a claim with the agency first, this case illustrates some of the complexity of FTCA cases.
The FTCA does not apply to claims for sexual assault or other intentional torts. So instead of suing the therapist, Glade had to sue the VA
for negligently allowing her to abuse him. The problem arose because Glade did not expressly accuse the VA of this in his claim to the agency. Although he apparently stated all of the relevant facts, he did not say that the VA failed to do anything. By failing to explicitly lay out this component of his claim, Glade failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and therefore had no claim under the FTCA.
Because of this approach, Glade lost his case before a court even reviewed his allegations. Although the 7th Circuit expressed serious doubts about whether the lawsuit would have worked under the FTCA, no court had a chance to examine the merits because Glade did not meet the prerequisites.
While the FTCA allows plaintiffs to pursue the federal government for negligent conduct, the statute also requires them to play by its own rules. Glade's case is an example of how failure to comply exactly with the complex requirements can doom a lawsuit from the start.
This case shows just how important it is to consult with an experienced Michigan federal tort claims attorney
before trying to navigate the hazardous obstacles of the FTCA.
The Federal Tort Claims Act dictates a formal procedure for the handling of claims against the United States when negligence has been committed by a government employee in the course of his or her duties. McKeen & Associates knows exactly how to file a military medical malpractice or personal injury claim under this act.
McKeen & Associates, PC
645 Griswold Street, Suite 4200
Detroit MI 48226
Detroit Law Office
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