Federal Torts Claims Act

What Rights Does a Prisoner Have Under the Federal Tort Claims Act?

Although prisoners do not lose all their constitutional rights when they are incarcerated, it can be very difficult to sue for and recover damages against the government. This is because of a principle called “Sovereign Immunity,” which protects both the Federal government and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from most legal claims. 

There is an exception, however. Congress passed a law called the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), which permits a person who has been injured by a federal official or institution to sue and recover for their injuries. The FTCA is one of the few ways in which a prisoner in federal prison can sue when they are injured by something the prison does, or fails to do. Examples of claims which have been permitted under the FTCA include:

  • negligence; 

  • assault;

  • battery;

  • false arrest;

  • abuse of process; and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

However, the FTCA does not allow for claims of defamation, slander, or mishandling or losing personal property.

There are a few other important limitations on the FTCA. First, this type of claim can only be filed in federal court. Second, it can only be asserted against the United States itself, for injuries caused by federal employees. You cannot sue the employees, or particular agencies, themselves, even if they were the ones that caused the injury. Third, but very importantly, the FTCA does not allow prisoners to sue for injuries that were caused by a “discretionary function” of a prison official. This rule has been applied in “failure to protect” cases, where prison officials failed to take proper action to protect an inmate from threats of danger by other inmates. Unfortunately, such claims are barred under the “discretionary function” exception to the FTCA. 

Administrative Grievance Process

Before an FTCA claim can be filed in Court, it must first be presented as an “administrative claim” with the agency which caused the harm. This must be done within two years of the incident which caused to the injury. Federal Prisoners must submit their administrative claims your claim needs to be submitted to the Bureau of Prisons using Government Standard Form 95. The “administrative claim” must include a specific dollar request for damages, as well as all of the facts which support the claim. In almost all circumstances, the administrative claim will be denied, after which a prisoner has only six months to file a FTCA claim in federal court. Therefore, it is important to move quickly to find an attorney as soon as the Bureau has denied the administrative claim. 

If the Bureau never responds to the administrative claim, after six months it can be deemed denied, and the prisoner has another six months to file the FTCA lawsuit. In other words, if the Bureau never responds, a prisoner has only one year from the date of the administrative claim to file a lawsuit, it it will be forever barred. 

In sum, while the FTCA is a valuable tool for prisoners to use in recovering for injuries caused by federal employees, it is a complex area of the law with many exceptions. Therefore, it is critical to be represented by an attorney when you or your loved one is injured. If you or someone you know has been injured in federal prison, please contact the Mizner Law Firm at jfm@miznerfirm.com or call 814.454.3889 to learn how we may be able to assist you.