In a recent federal appellate opinion, the court dismissed a plaintiff’s case against the U.S. government based on the plaintiff’s failure to timely file her case after her initial claim with the United States Post Office (USPS) was denied. The case presents an important issue for New Mexico car accident victims because it involves the application of the Federal Tort Claims Act filing requirements, which may be implicated in any case against the U.S. government.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was driving her car when she was struck by a USPS vehicle. The plaintiff claimed that the driver of the USPS vehicle was responsible for the accident. Two weeks after the accident, the plaintiff filed a claim with the USPS, seeking compensation for her injuries.
The USPS processed the plaintiff’s claim, ultimately denying the claim seven months after the plaintiff sent it in. Eight months later, the plaintiff filed a personal injury case in federal court against the USPS, as well as the USPS driver.
Since the USPS is a government organization, the United States was substituted as the defendant in the case. The government then sought to dismiss the plaintiff’s case, based on the plaintiff’s alleged failure to comply with the filing requirements of the FTCA.
The FTCA and Filing Requirements
Historically, the state and federal governments were immune from lawsuits brought by citizens. However, over the years, laws have been passed allowing citizens to sue government agencies. Generally speaking, these “tort claims acts” have strict filing requirements that must be met in order for the case to be heard by a court.
The FTCA is no exception. First, a plaintiff must present a claim with the agency from which he is seeking relief. Then, if the claim is denied, the plaintiff can file a case in a federal court. The case mentioned above involves the timeframe in which each of these actions must take place.
In order for a claim to be considered timely under the FTCA, it must be filed with the “appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues” or “within six months after the date . . . of notice of final denial of the claim.”
The Court’s Decision
The U.S. government argued that, while the plaintiff complied with the initial requirement that she present her claim to the USPS within two years, she failed to comply with the requirement that the case be filed within six months of the claim’s denial. The plaintiff argued that since the statute uses the word “or” when describing the filing requirements, she needed to only comply with one of the two.
The court agreed with the government and dismissed the plaintiff’s case. The court acknowledged the statute’s use of the word “or,” but it looked beyond the words to the intent Congress had when passing the FTCA. The court explained that under the plaintiff’s proposed interpretation, an accident victim would be able to wait for an unlimited amount of time before filing her claim, as long as she filed a case in federal court within six months of the day the claim was denied. This, the court determined, was not what Congress had in mind when it sought to place a strict timeline on cases filed against the government. Thus, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument and dismissed her case.
Have You Been Injured in a New Mexico Accident Involving a Government Employee?
If you or a loved one has recently been involved in a New Mexico car accident involving a government employee, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, as is the case with all claims against state and federal governments, there may be certain additional requirements you must follow. The dedicated New Mexico personal injury lawyers at the Fine Law Firm have decades of collective experience handling all types of New Mexico accident claims, including those naming government defendants. To learn more, call 505-889-FINE to schedule a free consultation today.
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Court Applies Coming and Going Rule in Recent Car Accident Case Seeking to Hold Employer Liable, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, July 18, 2018.
Car Dealership’s Insurance Policy Did Not Provide Coverage to Test-Driving Motorists, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, August 6, 2018.