There is a well-established rule in American law that you cannot sue the government without its consent. This rule, known as sovereign immunity, imposes a high bar for anyone who wants to sue the government for the negligent acts of its employees. Basically, unless Congress adopts an express exemption to the sovereign immunity rule, the injured victim is out of luck.
Fortunately, Congress has adopted a fairly broad waiver of sovereign immunity for personal injury claims. The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allows individuals to sue the federal government for negligent acts, but there are multiple exceptions to this waiver. One of the most notable is the “discretionary-function” exception.
Under this exception, you cannot sue the federal government based on an employee’s “exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function.” In simpler terms, if the law gives a federal employee any amount of discretion on how to do their job, you cannot bring a claim under the FTCA based on how that discretion is used–even if the employee was negligent. However, if the employee failed to follow a specific federal law, regulation, or policy, then the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity may still apply, as that does involve any discretionary function.