Massachusetts Court Explains the Requirements for Setting Forth a Sum Certain in Claims Under the Federal Tort Claims Act

Many hospitals receive federal funding. Thus, if an employee of a federally funded hospital commits medical malpractice, any claims for damages must typically comply with the requirements of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). For example, the plaintiff must set forth the evidence in support of the claim that a federal employee committed malpractice as well as the sum certain that constitutes the plaintiff’s damages. In a recent medical malpractice case filed in a Massachusetts federal court, the court explained what factual information is sufficient to set forth a sum certain as required to proceed with a claim. If you or a loved one suffered harm due to negligent medical care, it is advisable to speak to a diligent Massachusetts personal injury attorney to evaluate what claims you may be able to pursue against your provider.

Factual Background

It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent, who suffered from an irregular heartbeat, was a patient at the defendant hospital, which was federally funded. The doctors employed by the hospital failed to provide the decedent with a proper evaluation, diagnosis, or care, and she ultimately passed away due to her negligent care. The decedent was in her mid-twenties at the time of her death and left behind a young son and her parents, who filed a medical malpractice claim against the defendant pursuant to the FTCA.

Allegedly, the United States was then substituted as the defendant, due to the fact that the defendant hospital was federally funded. The defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that the plaintiff failed to set forth a sum certain in the administrative claim she filed prior to filing the lawsuit, as required under the FTCA.

Requirements for Setting Forth a Sum Certain

For a federal court to exercise jurisdiction over a claim arising under the FTCA, the plaintiff must state a sum certain, in writing, in a timely manner. The purpose of the sum certain is to define the government’s potential liability and to allow it to determine if moving toward settlement would better serve the interests of all parties. In order to adequately state a sum certain, a plaintiff must set forth a specific monetary amount, which constitutes the maximum amount of damages recoverable.

A court will allow unartfully drafted claims to survive, though, if they provide the government with sufficient notice of the harm alleged so as to allow it to assess the plaintiff’s claims. To that effect, the courts have held that the sum certain requirement has been met where a plaintiff has set forth a number of damages, despite unnecessary surplusage. In the subject case, the plaintiffs stated that their damages > $10,000,000. The court found the extra symbol to be mere surplusage and found that striking the symbol would remove concerns that the plaintiffs’ damages were open-ended. As such, the defendant’s motion was denied.

Discuss Your Harm with a Skillful Massachusetts Attorney

If you suffered injuries due to incompetent medical care, you may be owed damages and should speak to an attorney regarding your rights. The seasoned Massachusetts personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan, are well-versed in what it takes to prove liability for negligent harm, and we will work diligently to help you seek a successful outcome. We can be reached through our form online or at 508-822-6600 to set up a conference.