In this country full of big shots who know all the angles, it’s easy to feel like a powerless nobody struggling to make ends meet. I mean, it’s hard enough to figure out what the hell happened at the end of Lost, let alone navigate fairly within the laws of this country without giving into anger over the fact that it can sometimes seem like the rich and powerful get to play with all the cheat codes turned on. (Note: I’ve been dying to use a video game reference in this blog!)
Anyway, life can seem daunting in this way. Nowhere is this feeling more impressed upon people than when one is forced to deal with the very government tasked to serve them. The same government that was founded hundreds of years ago upon the now very ironic belief that its officials should serve and bend to the will of the people. Lest it become the very same tyrannical and oppressive rulers that was the English monarch at the time – a form of rule whom the forefathers fled to free themselves of, probably so they could marry their cousins or something. (Note: I’ve been dying to use a Simpsons reference, too!)
Sorry for taking so long with all my digressions. I know you all are just dying to see where I’m going with this post (unless you read the headline first), but I assure you that this seemingly nonsensical build-up is the perfect segue into the topic of how to file a lawsuit against the government. Go back and read the intro again. See, doesn’t it all make sense now?
For many people, the idea of suing the government sounds not only unrealistic and crazy, but also downright unpatriotic. However, doing this feat successfully is not only possible, but would also make our founding fathers proud to see people keeping corruption everywhere in check. Just please be sure to have suffered an actual harm – frivolous lawsuits weren’t part of their grand vision.
Now before we begin, you should be aware of something called government immunity. Essentially this means that the government can exempt itself from being sued for doing certain actions and the immunity extends to most state and federal agencies. This is to prevent mental patients from suing the president for going to war or congress for passing new taxes.
So when can you sue the government? Well, you can only sue the government in areas where the government allows itself to be sued. For instance, the Federal Tort Claims Act allows the government to be sued for the gross negligence of its employees.
Suing the government is a similar process as suing any other person; however there are special notice requirements that you should be aware of. Before filing a suit, generally you must first write a demand to the government department that has wronged you telling them what happened. Whether it was that a faulty light fixture from one of their buildings fell on your head or something else, you have to give written notice to the agency before you can file a lawsuit. This is to give them the chance to either own up and pay you for your damages, or deny your claim. If they do the latter, you can then bring your lawsuit. One other important note is that for most claims against the government, you have to bring them within two years or you won’t be able to sue for your alleged harm AT ALL.
The kinds of remedies you can get are also not too different from the kind you’d get for winning a lawsuit over a regular citizen. You can get money damages to cover any physical pain and expenses you incurred as a result of your harm, as well as injunctive relief (which means the court issues an order telling the government to change the way they current do something). What is usually much harder to get is emotional suffering damage. It’s not impossible, but let’s just say that the burden of proof is much, much higher than what you’d see in a normal civil suit.
Both the federal and various state governments have entire divisions dedicated to litigating claims brought by people against the government. These will be the attorneys you’ll be going up against. And believe me, when it comes to being sued, just like ordinary citizens, the government tries to hire some of the best lawyers around. So be ready for an uphill battle and get yourself a good attorney to help you through the process.