The Importance of Following the Procedural Requirements in Virginia Personal Injury Lawsuits Naming Government Defendants

For nearly the first two hundred years of the nation’s history, state and federal governments could not be held liable in a lawsuit brought by a citizen unless the government entity being named as a defendant specifically consented to being sued. In effect, this insulated the government from acts of its employees, leaving those who were injured as a result of a government worker’s negligence without any real means of recourse.

In the mid-20th century that began to change with the passage of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The FTCA provided a legal mechanism for those who had been injured due to the negligent or wrongful act of a government employee to seek compensation for their injuries. In the wake of the FTCA, states began to follow, passing their own versions of the law. The Virginia Tort Claims Act was passed in its current form in 1981, and is contained in Virginia Code, Title 8.01 sections 195.1 to 195.12.

In order to bring a lawsuit against a government entity under a tort claims act, the conditions of the act must be followed. In most cases, tort claims acts require plaintiffs to provide adequate notice to the government entity being sued and pursue their case in a timely manner. A plaintiff’s failure to file these rules precisely will almost certainly result in the dismissal of their lawsuit. A recent case illustrates how courts strictly interpret the procedural requirements of tort claims acts.

The Facts

The plaintiff was injured in a car accident that she alleged was caused by a postal employee’s negligence. The plaintiff filed a claim with the post office within two weeks of the accident, seeking compensation for her injuries. Eight months after the post office denied the plaintiff’s claim, she filed a personal injury lawsuit.

The post office argued that the plaintiff’s case failed to comply with the strict requirements of the FTCA. Specifically, the post office pointed to the following text, contained in the FTCA:

A tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred unless it is presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues or unless action is begun within six months after the date of mailing, by certified or registered mail, of notice of final denial of the claim by the agency to which it was presented.

The post office argued that this paragraph put two requirements on potential plaintiffs. First, they must provide notice within two years of the incident. And second, the case must be filed within six months of the agency’s denial of any internal claim. The plaintiff responded that she only needed to comply with either of the two requirements, but not both.

The court agreed with the post office, finding that the plaintiff waived her right to bring the case by waiting eight months after the post office denied her initial claim. The court explained that the purpose of the FTCA was to provide for the quick resolution of claims, and by permitting a plaintiff to comply with only one of the two requirements a plaintiff could effectively wait decades to file an initial claim so long as she filed the case within six months of the agency’s denial. This was not the effect the legislature intended when passing the FTCA, the court held, and thus, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

Have You Been Injured in an Accident Involving a Government Employee?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Virginia car accident involving a state or federal government employee, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. It is important to keep in mind that if your case names a government employee or agency as a defendant, there may be additional requirements. At the Law Offices of The Schupak Law Firm we represent Virginia accident victims in a wide range of personal injury claims, including those naming government agencies as defendants. To learn more, call 703-491-7070 to speak to a dedicated Virginia personal injury about your case.

See More Blog Posts:

Court Dismisses Plaintiff’s Slip-and-Fall Case Against City Based on Plaintiff’s Failure to Show the City Knew of the Hazard, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, August 6, 2018.

Court Discusses Defendant’s Liability in Multi-Vehicle Road Rage Accident, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, July 18, 2018.

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