Massachusetts Court Explains Exceptions to Liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act

People injured in car accidents will often pursue damages from the party responsible for causing the accident via a personal injury lawsuit. When the defendant in a case arising out of a collision is a person, the process of proving liability is relatively straightforward, but when the responsible party is an agent of the federal government, demonstrating fault can be challenging. This was illustrated in a recent Massachusetts ruling in which the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims against the United States in a case arising out of a crash involving a postal vehicle. If you were hurt in a collision, you might be owed damages, and it is wise to speak to a capable Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding your potential claims.

The Subject Accident

It is reported that the plaintiffs were minor children riding on a school bus that was rear-ended by a contractor delivering mail for the defendant, the United States Postal Service. The plaintiffs suffered severe injuries and subsequently filed a lawsuit against the defendant under the Federal Tort Claims Act, arguing that the failure to properly maintain the postal vehicle caused the collision. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which the trial court granted, and the plaintiffs appealed. On appeal, the trial court ruling was affirmed.

Liability Under the Federal Tort Claims Act

On appeal, the court explained that a dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction essentially equates to a finding that the court has no authority to decide a case either way. The United States, as a sovereign, is immune from liability unless it assents to being sued. The Federal Tort Claims Act provides consent in certain instances, allowing the United States to be sued for injuries caused by federal employees who are acting within the scope of their employment at the time they cause harm.

There is an exception to the general rule, however, for discretionary functions. In other words, the government’s sovereign immunity will remain intact where the harm alleged arose out of the performance or exercise, or failure to exercise, of a discretionary duty or function on the party of the government employee or federal agency. Notably, the exception applies whether or not the discretion was abused.

A court will analyze discretionary function exception issues by first identifying the conduct that caused the harm and then determining whether the conduct is discretionary. If so, the court will then assess whether the exercise of the discretion is potentially or actually affected by legitimate policy-related judgments. In the subject case, the court found that the inspection of postal vehicles was properly considered a discretionary activity. Thus, the trial court ruling was affirmed.

Meet with a Trusted Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

Car accidents rarely occur without negligence, and people that carelessly cause collisions should be held accountable. If you were injured in a crash, you should meet with an attorney to discuss your rights. Trusted personal injury attorney James K. Meehan is adept at helping injured people seek compensation for their harm, and he can aid you in the pursuit of a favorable result. The Law Office of James K. Meehan can be contacted via our form online or at 508-822-6600 to set up a conference.