Pursuing a claim against the federal government can be a complicated process. If you have been rear- ended by a U.S. Postal Service vehicle, or T-boned by an on-duty U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent, then you are probably wondering what steps to take in order to properly pursue a claim. When dealing with a claim against the federal government, there are very important steps to follow or your claim will be lost.
Unlike Washington State’s Statute of Limitations, which allows a period of three years to settle most claims for damages, when pursuing a Federal agency for negligence for personal injury, property damage or wrongful death, the Statute of Limitations is only two years. In addition, there is a prerequisite to pursuing a claim against the federal government: you must file what is known as a Tort Claim Form. This form, known as Standard Form 95, asks for all of the facts and supporting documentation for your claim, and each agency may have different rules on where to send the claim form. The claim form is part of an administrative process that is required under Federal law and cannot be skipped or ignored.
Under the Federal statute, you must also give the federal agency six months from the time they receive the tort claim form to review your claim. If they deny your claim, then and only then, can you pursue a lawsuit against the Federal government. So, essentially, you must present a tort claim form within 18 months of the date of the injury event to allow the appropriate Federal agency to review the claim. You must also file a lawsuit within 6 months of the date the Federal agency denies your claim.
Assuming the Federal agency denies the claim, the lawsuit must be filed in the appropriate local Federal Court, not Washington State Court. Generally, suit must be filed where you live or where the incident causing the harm occurred.
This complicated legal process reinforces my advice in these situations, which is to always consult with a knowledgeable attorney, even if you don’t ever end up actually hiring that attorney.