Texas Badge

Are government-owned railroads protected by sovereign immunity?

Sometimes when there has been an accident involving a railroad operator the plaintiff may seek compensation for their injury under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The Federal Tort Claims Act may apply when the owner/operator of the railroad that caused your injuries is owned or operated by the federal government, such as an Amtrak train. Essentially, if you're injured by a railroad that is under the control of the federal government, your lawsuit is against the federal government. These lawsuits are governed by a law called the Federal Tort Claims Act. However, recovering for your injuries under the Federal Tort Claims act is vastly different than bringing an action against a private citizen or company.

There are certain steps that must be followed first or else your claim will not be honored, and you could lose the opportunity to be compensated for your injuries.

Filing a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act is not as straight forward as it might seem. Before the process begins you must know if your claim is even eligible for protection under the Act. If you decide to proceed under the Act and your claim is not eligible to do so, you could waste valuable time and put your claim in jeopardy. That is why a review of your case by an experienced attorney is wise before too much time passes after your accident.


Questions Answered on This Page:

  • What is the Federal Tort Claims Act?
  • What is the process of filing suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act?

What is the Federal Tort Claims Act?

Prior to the passage of the Federal Tort Claims Act, citizens were unable to sue the federal government for harm caused by a federal agency or one of its employees working within the scope of their job function. This inability for a private citizen to sue the federal government is called sovereign immunity. However, when the Federal Tort Claims Act was enacted in 1948, that immunity was essentially waived and certain types of lawsuits were allowed to be brought against the government in court. However, your claim must fall within the scope of what the Federal Tort Claims Act is meant to cover or the sovereign immunity the federal government enjoys in most situations will not be waived and your lawsuit will not be allowed.

If your injuries arise out of the negligence of a federal agency or employee acting within the scope of their employment, the Federal Tort Claims Act may apply in your case. Your accident involving the railroad that injured you may fall within the bounds of the Act. Determining this as soon as possible is important because if your claim does fall within the bounds of the Act, getting the process started on your case right a way is essential.

Generally speaking, a claim can be brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act to recover monetary damages for injuries or death caused by the negligent actions or omissions by an employee of the federal government. However there are other parameters of the FTCA that must be noted as well.

  1. The person must be an employee of the federal government and not a contractor.
  2. The negligent acts must have occurred while the employee was acting within the scope of their employment duties.
  3. Only acts of negligence are covered under the FTCA. Intentional harmful acts such as assault, battery and other intentional torts are not allowed.
  4. The claim must be based on the state law where the incident occurred and the claim must be allowed by the law of that state as well.

Keep in mind that when it comes to your claim being based on the law of the state where the incident occurred, that this extends to your damages as well. If there would be a cap on damages related to the kind of negligence your claim is based on in state court, the same cap on damages would apply in your Federal Tort Claims Act case at the federal level.

There are other rules regarding claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act, but getting through the hurdles outlined above is the first step in determining if your claim should move forward under the Federal Tort Claims Act. If your claim is a viable one under the FTCA the process for bringing your claim against the federal government should begin.

Suing Under the Federal Tort Claims Act

You can now file your law suit under the FTCA. Your claim needs to be filed in federal district court in the jurisdiction where the accident occurred or the district where you live. Because your claim of negligence is against the federal government, your case cannot be filed in state court.

Once your case is filed you may have the opportunity to settle the case with the attorney assigned to litigate your claim. While during the administrative process your claim was handled by an attorney that works for the Federal Railroad Administration, once the case reaches federal court an attorney from the Justice Department will probably be handling your case at this point. This attorney may try to settle with your claim or it may go forward to trial.

If your case does reach the trial phase, it will be heard and decided without a jury. The judge will rule on your case. The judge will have some discretion in awarding non-economic damages on your claim such as pain and suffering. Having a good idea of what similar claims have been awarded at the state level may provide insight as to what you can realistically expect in your federal claim.

Navigating the Federal Tort Claims Act

Understanding the role the Federal Tort Claims Act can play in your railroad accident claim can be difficult. From determining the applicability of the FTCA to your claim to locating the appropriate federal agency to file the administrative claim with can be confusing. Additionally getting all of your claim and damages information in the administrative claim is essential because if you do not your ability to recover may be seriously hindered. This is why you may not want to handle the claim and the dealing with the Federal Tort Claims Act alone.

Call Grossman Law Offices

Contacting an experienced attorney like ours at Grossman Law Offices could be the right move for you and aid in your railroad injury claim. Whether the claim is filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act or needs to litigated in the more traditional manner, we can help.

At Grossman Law Offices, we have over 25 years of experienced handling persona injury cases. If you would like to talk to one of our train accident attorneys about your possible claim, please call us at (855) 326-0000 (toll free). We're available to speak to you 24/7.


Other articles about train accidents you might find helpful: