In 1946, the Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA) became the legal means in which a medical malpractice suit is brought against the Federal Veterans Administration (VA). The FTCA allows claims based on errors or negligence of U.S government employees that lead to personal injuries, wrongful death, or property loss or damage. This program is unique in various ways, as a set of requirements must be met. The FTCA establishes the federal courts are the lone jurisdiction for these civil matters against the U.S.
The FTCA places no limits on governmental liability, thus judgments into the millions are possible. In addition, there are both administrative and judicial aspects that must be satisfied. First, those bringing a claim must initially do so to the specific federal department that was involved with the injury. If this entity is either unresponsive, responds with a denial, or offers an insufficient settlement, then the claimant may file suit in a U.S. district court. For an action to be successful, it must show that the damages were the result of a VA employee's negligence, wrongful action, or inaction. The circumstances must exist that the action would have also been deemed negligent if the party were a private citizen, based on the laws in the state of occurrence. Determining negligence in the case will actually be in accordance with the malpractice laws in that state where it occurred. In addition, the negligent party must be clearly classified as a government employee who was working in the regular scope of their capacity of employment at the time. These claims brought in federal courts do not have an option for jury trials.
The types of damages which may be awarded include:
- Noneconomic or general: This includes pain, anguish, distress, inability to enjoy life, deformity etc. It is important to note that many states impose limitations on this segment.
- Economic: Costs and losses resulting from the tort including medical bills, lost wages and other quantifiable items.
- Future damages: Results that will continue beyond the course of the civil actions including future lost earnings.
Federal employees are those acting for a federal agency in either temporary or permanent status, regardless of whether they are being paid. Volunteers performing their services as a federal employee are thus included. The definition excludes those who are contracted to provide services. These are individuals who the government does not closely supervise or control. When the potentially negligent individual is determined to be an independent contractor, the government does not assume liability and the case must be brought outside of the FTCA.
Geographically, the injury must occur within the jurisdiction of the U.S. government. Incidents that occur beyond U.S borders are not included in the FTCA, even if on a military base of the U.S. This applies regardless of whether the claimant is a U.S citizen or not. Claims reflecting these circumstances must be pursued by alternative means.