If you are injured on someone else’s property, you can normally bring a premises liability claim if there is evidence the owner was somehow negligent. Unfortunately, the rules are much different for injury victims if they are injured on government property. Both the federal and Georgia governments are normally immune from lawsuits unless they consent to be sued. With respect to the federal government, Congress adopted the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which authorizes individuals to bring personal injury lawsuits against the government under state law in certain circumstances.
What do we mean by “certain circumstances”? The FTCA does contain a number of exceptions, which courts are required to strictly construe in favor of the federal government, as it is presumed to have immunity unless expressly waived. One of the most common exceptions applies to “discretionary” actions by government employees. This exception holds that a person may not file a personal injury claim against the government based on an employee’s “failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function.” In other words, if an employee fails to carry out a duty mandated by law, a person can file a claim under the FTCA. But if the employee has any discretion to act (or not act), the government cannot be held liable.
Fagg v. United States
Here is a recent example of the FTCA in practice. This case involves a man who drove a delivery truck for an outside contractor hired by the United States Postal Service. (Although technically a private corporation, the Postal Service is still considered a federal agency for FTCA purposes.) In December 2013, the driver arrived at a Post Office in Conley, Georgia, when he was confronted by two armed robbers. One of the robbers shot the driver, seriously injuring him.
The driver subsequently filed a lawsuit against the federal government under the FTCA. The driver argued there had been two robberies prior to his incident at the same Post Office, which should have put USPS officials “on notice of a dangerous condition or likelihood of future robberies.” Indeed, the USPS apparently did respond to the two earlier robberies by providing armed guards for all deliveries, but such protection ended after a few weeks due to the cost. The driver argued that this amounted to a failure by the USPS to follow its own security regulations, thereby justifying a waiver of sovereign immunity under the FTCA.
The USPS and the court disagreed. U.S. Senior District Judge Clarence Cooper of Atlanta dismissed the driver’s lawsuit in a September 10 order. Judge Cooper said the Postal Service’s “temporary practice of providing armed guards” at the Conley Post Office was a clear “exercise of day-to-day management or operational duties,” which fell within the discretionary function exception to the FTCA. Judge Cooper cited binding precedent from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held in a similar case the Postal Service’s decisions regarding security could not be “second guessed” by injury victims or the courts.