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

Although an inmates rights are specifically guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, 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 decision” 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” exception to the FTCA. 

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.