Historically, under the theory of sovereign immunity, private citizens were not permitted to file lawsuits against the government. Sovereign immunity left citizens with no recourse against the government in Virginia personal injury accidents involving government officials. To address the fundamental unfairness of sovereign immunity, the government enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The FTCA provides citizens with a mechanism to hold the federal government and its employees liable for their negligent actions. However, the FTCA has several important exceptions, most notably the “discretionary function” exception.
The discretionary function exception can significantly limit a Virginia injury victim’s right to recover against the government. This exception bars lawsuits against the federal government that are a result of the government actor’s judgment. Legislators included this exception in an attempt to prevent “judicial second-guessing,” and Virginia plaintiffs are tasked with overcoming a two-step inquiry before their lawsuit can proceed.
The first step in the inquiry requires the court to decide whether the challenged action was a discretionary one. The court will look at if the actor’s negligent act involved a matter of a choice or judgment. If the court finds that the decision was discretionary, they will then evaluate public policy concerns and determine whether the decision was grounded in social, political, or policy matters. If so, immunity may attach. The second prong is very broad, and many cases fail at this step. If a Virginia plaintiff’s claim meets these two prongs, their case will be able to proceed.
The discretionary exception was recently discussed in a tragic case filed against a national park. The families filed a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against the government after their sons were killed by a tree branch while camping. The families argued that the government knew that the tree branch could break and cause a fatal injury, but they nevertheless allowed campers onsite. The national park claimed that it was immune from suit because its employees’ evaluation of the campsite was a discretionary function. The families argued that the assessment was not discretionary because the employees referenced a seven-point system before allowing the campers on site. The court agreed that the evaluation and subsequent decision to allow campers onsite was not discretionary. Ultimately, the court decided that the discretionary function exception did not bar the plaintiff’s lawsuit against the government.
Have You Suffered an Injury as a Result of the Government’s Negligence?
If you or someone you know was injured as a result of a negligent government employee or entity, you should contact the dedicated Virginia slip and fall attorneys at Robinson Law. The attorneys at our firm understand the unique challenges that claims against the government entail. These cases require extensive procedural and substantive knowledge of federal tort claims. Our attorneys are prepared to handle your claim against the negligent governmental entity or employee that caused your injuries. We can help you navigate these complex cases and get you the compensation you deserve. Compensation often includes payments for medical bills, lost wages, lost benefits, and pain and suffering. Contact the Virginia personal injury attorneys at our law firm at 703-542-4008 to schedule a free initial consultation.