FAQ’s on Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Lawsuits Against the US Military
The following are common questions about the rights of people who are injured or of families whose loved one is killed during service in the United States military:
Can I sue the U.S. (including the military and the federal government) if I am injured or my loved one is killed during regular active duty military service?
You cannot bring a lawsuits against the U.S. for injuries or deaths that occur during active duty military service. The U.S. is protected by “sovereign immunity;” this means the U.S. cannot be sued for incidents that occur during active duty service unless the U.S. agrees to the lawsuit or otherwise waives its immunity.
Can I sue the U.S. if I am injured or my loved one is killed during active duty military service due to mistakes or accidents by the military?
The U.S. is protected from lawsuits for injury or death that occur during active duty military service, even if your injury is due to mistakes made by the military. The Feres Doctrine prevents lawsuits filed by active duty service members, even when the military has acted negligently. For instance, if you are injured because the military mistakenly failed to warn you of a dangerous condition involved in your active duty work, such as the presence of radioactive materials, you cannot sue the U.S.
What if the mistakes or accidents are caused by other service members?
The Feres Doctrine prevents lawsuits against negligent service members as well. For example, if you are injured because a military electrician installed faulty wiring on base that started a fire, you would not be able to sue the either U.S. or the military electrician. The same is true of active duty service members injured by the mistake of a military doctor.
What if the mistakes or accidents are caused by military contractors?
Active and inactive service members are generally able to sue military contractors who are negligent. Because the lawsuit is against a private citizen or business, rather than the U.S., protections like the Feres Doctrine and sovereign immunity do not apply. So, if a weapon or parachute, etc., that you use during active duty is manufactured by a military contractor, breaks because of faulty design and injures you, you can sue for personal injury or wrongful death.
What if I am no longer on active duty, but am injured doing something that involves the military or the federal government?
The U.S. has waived its sovereign immunity from lawsuits in some cases when service members are no longer on active duty (and sometimes if you are on furlough); usually this is the case when you are injured because of the negligence of a federal employee who is performing work that is not specifically governmental. For instance, if a doctor at the Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospital makes a mistake that injures you, you should be able to bring a lawsuit against the U.S. This type of lawsuit is allowed by the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
If I can sue the U.S., is there a time limit?
Yes. You must file your claim within the “statute of limitations,” and you must give the government proper “notice.” If you file your claim within two years of the date you knew or should have known about the negligence, you are within the statute of limitations. You meet the notice requirements if you file a Standard Form 95 in writing and include the dollar amount you are seeking for your injury. If you don’t follow these two guidelines, your claim will be dismissed.
What if my family members are injured through U.S. military or government action?
The protections that apply to the U.S. against lawsuits by active duty service members do not apply to the family members of those service members. If a military family member is injured because of negligence by the military, a federal employee or a service member, he or she is generally able to sue the U.S. For instance, if a spouse is injured because of negligence by a military doctor, he or she should be able to bring a lawsuit.
What if I am injured by military or federal government action, but I am not a member of the military?
Like military family members, if a member of the public is injured by military or government action, the governmental protections against lawsuits do not apply. Like all of the situations described above, it is critical to consult a lawyer with expert federal law experience and a successful track record to discuss your personal situation.
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