When The Clock Runs Out: The Federal Tort Claims Act

The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) is the exclusive remedy for tort actions against the United States.  Such actions include personal injury and medical malpractice claims caused by the negligence of Federal employees. Like the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (MTCA), discussed in the April 2017 issue of Legal News, the FTCA abrogates traditional sovereign immunity from lawsuits and permits tort claims to be brought against public employers in accordance with specific procedures, including the filing of an administrative claim within two years which operates as a statute of limitation. Failure to present an administrative claim to the proper agency within the two-year presentment period will result in preclusion or dismissal of the claim.

Case Study: Don’t Delay Seeking Legal Advice

One recent case from the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes the District of Massachusetts, highlights the sometimes harsh consequences of failing to comply with the Act’s requirements. In that case, the son of a nursing home resident who died after falling unobserved in the facility’s hallway brought a negligence and wrongful death action under the FTCA as personal representative of his father’s estate against the nursing home, a federal entity under the purview of the U.S. Public Health Service. The United States moved to dismiss the case for failure to present the claim within the two-year presentment period.

In affirming the dismissal of the son’s claim, the First Circuit court noted that although the ‘discovery rule,’ available in prosecuting Federal tort claims, may delay accrual of an action until a plaintiff knows or reasonably should know both that he is injured and what caused his injury; the discovery rule also incorporates an objective standard charging a plaintiff not only with what he actually knew about his injury, but also with “what a reasonable person, once fairly prompted to investigate, would have discovered by diligent investigation.” The court found that the son was in possession of all the facts necessary for his claim at least by the time his father’s death certificate issued identifying the location of his fall, which was more than two years prior to the submission of the son’s claim for damages to the Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition, the court denied the son’s attempt to amend his complaint to include a claim for violation of civil rights against a nurse who allegedly concealed material facts during the son’s telephone call with her, finding that such an amendment would be futile. The court noted that the FTCA is the exclusive remedy for any action against an employee of the Public Health Service while acting within the scope of his office or employment and has been interpreted as granting absolute immunity to PHS officers and employees by barring all actions against them for conduct arising out the performance of medical or related functions. The case illustrates the importance of promptly consulting an experienced attorney to investigate and preserve potential legal claims.


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If you or a loved one were injured because of someone’s negligence, contact Attorney Allison now for a free consultation by calling 978-740-9433 or filling out our free consultation form.  We look forward to talking to you about your claim.