Federal Tort Claims Act
The Federal Tort Claims Act (June 25, 1946, ch.646, Title IV, 60 Stat. 812, "28 U.S.C. Pt.VI Ch.171" and 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)) ("FTCA") is a 1946 federal statute that permits private parties to sue the United States in a federal court for most torts committed by persons acting on behalf of the United States. Historically, citizens have not been able to sue their state—a doctrine referred to as sovereign immunity. The FTCA constitutes a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, permitting citizens to pursue some tort claims against the government.
Under the FTCA, "[t]he United States [is] liable . . . in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances, but [is not] liable for interest prior to judgment or for punitive damages." 28 U.S.C. § 2674. Federal courts have jurisdiction over such claims, but apply the law of the State "where the act or omission occurred." 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). Thus, both federal and State law may impose limitations on liability. The FTCA exempts, among other things, claims based upon the performance, or failure to perform a "discretionary function or duty." The FTCA also exempts a number of intentional torts. However, the FTCA does not exempt intentional torts committed by "investigative or law enforcement officers," thus allowing individuals aggrieved by the actions of law enforcement officers to have their day in court. The Supreme Court affirmed this so-called "law enforcement proviso" in Millbrook v. United States, where a federal prisoner was allowed to bring a claim against the United States for intentional torts committed by federal prison guards in the scope of their employment. Under the FTCA, a tort claim against the United States must be presented in writing to the appropriate federal agency within two years after the claim accrues, or it is time-barred. 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b).
FTCA is the “exclusive means by which a party may sue the United States for money damages . . . in tort” (28 USC § 2679. Exclusiveness of remedy). Accordingly, an FTCA action “can be brought only in a United States District Court” (28 USC § 1346(b)). Regarding the timing of filing, FTCA's § 2401(b) states that the action must be brought “within two years after the claim accrues,” or “within six months after . . . notice of final denial of the claim by the agency . . . .”
In addition, under the FTCA, “Liability is determinable in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred” (§1346(b)(1)).
The "Federal Tort Claims Act" was also previously the official short title passed by the Seventy-ninth Congress on August 2, 1946 as Title IV of the Legislative Reorganization Act, 60 Stat. 842, which was classified principally to chapter 20 (§§ 921, 922, 931–934, 941–946) of former Title 28, Judicial Code and Judiciary.
That Title IV of the Legislative Reorganization Act act of August 2, 1946 was substantially repealed and reenacted as sections 1346 (b) and 2671 et seq. of this title by act June 25, 1948, ch. 646, 62 Stat. 982, the first section of which enacted this title (Tort Claims Procedure).
The Act was passed following the 1945 B-25 Empire State Building crash, where a bomber piloted in thick fog by Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith, Jr. crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building. As NPR reported, "Eight months after the crash, the U.S. government offered money to families of the victims. Some accepted, but others initiated a lawsuit that resulted in landmark legislation. The Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, for the first time, gave American citizens the right to sue the federal government." Although the crash was not the initial catalyst for the bill, which had been pending in Congress for more than two decades, the statute was made retroactive to 1945 in order to allow victims of that crash to seek recovery.
- 28 U.S.C. § 2680(a)
- 28 U.S.C. § 2680(h)
- 340 U.S. 135 (1950).
- 28 U.S.C. §2671, Additional Notes, "Short Title" Section as found on the Legal Information Institute Online, Cornell University Law School
- "The Day A Bomber Hit The Empire State Building". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2008-07-28.
- State Ins. Fund v. United States, 346 U.S. 15 (1953), pp.24-30
- Ballentine's Law Dictionary, p. 193.