It won’t surprise you to learn that federal employees, just like private individuals, get into car accidents. But it may surprise you to learn that the doctrine of sovereign immunity used to make it impossible to sue federal employees.
Fortunately, the enactment of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) in 1946 changed all of this, making it possible to file lawsuits against federal employees under certain conditions.
This legislation was recently put to the test in a North Texas case, resulting in a $26.5 million verdict against a United States Postal Service employee.
The accident and lawsuit
In May 2018, Michael Le, a resident of Grand Prairie, Texas, was involved in a collision with a U.S. Postal Service truck. Le was backing out of his driveway in Grand Prairie when a U.S. Postal Service driver reversed down the street and hit his car.
The collision caused Le to lose control of his vehicle, which crashed into his neighbor’s house.
At the time of the crash, Le had a pre-existing condition known as ankylosing spondylitis. The condition made Le more susceptible to fractures from low-impact collisions.
The accident left Le a quadriplegic. He subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the U.S. government, seeking compensation for the life-altering injuries he sustained.
Learn about spinal cord injuries, including the different types of spinal cord injuries and the steps you should take following a spinal cord injury.
The trial and verdict
The lawsuit was heard by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of the Fort Worth division of the Northern District of Texas. After a bench trial, Judge O’Connor ruled in favor of Le and his wife, awarding them $26.5 million in damages.
Of the $26.5 million awarded, $23.9 million was allocated to Le for past and future medical expenses, loss of earnings, and other damages. His wife, Dung Le, was awarded $2.6 million.
The U.S. government argued that Le's fracture occurred during the second collision with his neighbor's house. However, Judge O’Connor, citing expert testimony, concluded that the initial collision with the USPS truck caused a neurological injury and spinal fracture that rendered Le unable to control his vehicle.
Learn more about the types of compensation available in personal injury cases.
The impact of the accident on Le’s life
The accident had a profound impact on Le's life. He suffered a tear in his esophagus that necessitates the permanent use of a feeding tube. What’s more, his lower legs were amputated, which has left him confined to a bed or wheelchair.
Suing the United States government
Under the FTCA, you can sue the federal government if you’re harmed by a federal employee (such as a postal worker).
A claim under the FTCA may be viable if the following conditions are met:
- You sustained injuries due to the actions of a federal government employee,
- The employee was performing their job duties when the incident occurred,
- The employee's actions were negligent or wrongful, and
- The negligent or wrongful conduct directly resulted in harm to you.
It's crucial to understand that the process of filing a lawsuit against the federal government differs significantly from that of suing a private individual or corporation. For instance, before initiating a lawsuit against the federal government, you are required to submit an administrative claim to the federal agency responsible for your injury. This claim must be filed within a two-year window from the date of the injury, or it may be forever barred.
The case of Michael Le demonstrates that it’s possible to sue a federal entity like the USPS. However, suing the federal government can be tricky, as there are specific steps you must take under the FTCA. To ensure your rights are protected, we strongly recommend consulting with an attorney who has experience litigating cases against the federal government.