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Getting Compensation After An Accident With a Government Vehicle

Being in a car accident is an unfortunate event. It involves medical and legal issues, especially during the aftermath. This scenario is twice as troubling when it includes an accident with a government vehicle – and a fair car accident settlement is more difficult to obtain than if you were in an accident with a non-government vehicle.

Who is liable in a car accident with a government vehicle? In most cases, the government employee who is driving isn’t liable if he was performing his job duties when the accident happened. In that case, the legal responsibility lies within the local, state, or federal government, not an individual employee.

If you were the victim of a car accident of this kind, filing a government injury claim is not an easy process. In this article, you’ll learn who is liable and what to do after a car accident happened.

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Are you liable if you get in a car accident while driving a government vehicle?

In the event of a car accident in a government vehicle, government employees are usually shielded from liability. This is true so long as they were acting within the scope of their job when the car accident happened. In certain instances, this also includes using a government vehicle to drive from and to their place of residence.

A government employee becomes liable for causing an auto accident when they act outside the scope of their job. At the same time, certain behaviors after an accident (such as failing to call for medical assistance or leaving the scene) also makes them liable for damages.

Scenarios where a government employee is not liable:

  • A city bus driver rear-ending another car as they drive out of a bus stop
  • A police officer crashing against a building during a car chase

Scenarios where a government employee is liable:

  • A civil servant colliding with another car while going for groceries using a government-owned vehicle
  • A postal worker not calling 911 after rear-ending a car mid-route

The Tort Claims Act protects individual government employees from personal liability when they act on behalf of the United States. As long as their situation falls under TCA guidelines, they are not liable. Legal responsibility lies with the government entity instead.

Understanding the Federal Tort Claims Act

Before 1946, suing the government was close to impossible. Sovereign Immunity made it clear that the government was never at fault – and no court decision was going to change that.

That type of system led to plenty of abuses. In response, US Congress enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act. The FTCA makes it possible to sue the government for torts (i.e., civil wrongdoings) committed by someone acting on behalf of the United States. These changes in the law have an affect on what you should do after a car accident with a government vehicle.

Why does the FTCA matter?

There are two reasons why the FTCA matters.

  1. There’s an ethical reason. Citizens being unable to sue the government unequivocally breeds corruption. The FTCA helps fight against that injustice.
  2. There’s a legal reason. If you’re involved in a car accident with a government vehicle, you need to understand the FTCA to file a government injury claim.

Be advised: there’s more than one Tort Claims Act. The federal act relates to federal agencies. State and local governments might have a Tort Claims Act of their own.

What does the FTCA determine?

The FTCA shields government employees from liability when they act on behalf of the U.S.

This means that civil servants are not immediately held legally responsible for any civil wrongdoings while doing their job. This is the case as long as they act according to FTCA’s guidelines.

If, for example, you are in a car accident when driving a government vehicle, the FTCA will determine whether you’re liable or not for that event. On the other hand, if a government employee rear-ended you causing injury while they were driving a government-owned vehicle, the FTCA determines how you should file a legal claim.

What to do if I get in a car accident with a government vehicle?

Before moving any further, remember to do as you usually would when involved in a car accident. Check that everyone is okay, call 911 for injured parties, and document the entire event.

Once you deal with the immediate tasks you have to face, you should file a police report right away. While not required, we suggest you speak with a personal injury attorney as soon as you can. When it comes to government injury claims, time is of the essence.

After that, what you’re going to do next depends on a case-by-case basis. Filing a car accident lawsuit against a local government isn’t the same as doing so against a federal agency. That’s why having a lawyer by your side is of the utmost importance.

Is it difficult to file a car accident claim against the government?

If you wish to file a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act, you’re going to face complicated paperwork. You will also have a tighter deadline than you would if you were filing a car accident claim against a private citizen.

Not only that, but you will also have to understand multiple versions of the Tort Claims Act, as there are as many TCAs as there are states. And, sometimes, cities have their own version too.

We highly recommend you hire a lawyer right after the event. While you’re not legally required to hire one, it will ease the burden that you’ll face if you decide to move forward with your claim.

Things to consider if you decide to sue

  • Time Limit. The filing period for injury claims is shorter when it involves federal, state, and local governments. Instead of the usual two-year timeframe, you’ll have between 30 days and up to a year to file your claim. This changes on a case-by-case basis.
  • Sovereign Immunity. While the TCA waives immunity in most cases, there are specific scenarios where you won’t be able to sue the government after a car accident. Fortunately, all government levels tend to waive immunity in private injury claims.


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About Michael Eisner, Esq

Michael Eisner earned his Juris Doctorate from George Washington University and practiced law in Illinois for 4 years before leaving to focus his energy on writing full time. He writes about the intersection of law and technology, and enjoys creating content that helps regular people understand how these topics can impact the lives of everyday people in ways they don’t realize.