Tort claims acts (TCA) are statutes that waive the government's sovereign
immunity from tort liability. These statutes allow courts to exercise jurisdiction
over the government in certain cases, thus allowing citizens to seek relief for
torts committed by officials. TCAs remove the need to directly petition the
legislature for tort damages with a private bill, making relief from the
government much more available.
The FTCA allows recovery "for injury or loss of property, or personal injury or
death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of
the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment,
under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be
liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or
omission occurred." It allows people to sue federal government officials for
certain actions by waiving the government’s immunity from tort liability.
Courts will strictly construe claims of government waiver of immunity in favor of
the government. If a claim is ambiguous, the government will get the benefit
of the doubt and retain immunity from liability.
The FTCA was enacted in 1946 to make the federal government liable in suit
for the torts of its employees in the same way as a private individual is liable,
although with some exceptions. Since there was no federal tort law to apply,
the FTCA relies on substantive tort law of the state in which the claim arose.
Molzof v. U.S., 502 U.S. 301 (1992). The ramifications of this are that if a
particular tort is not recognized in that state, the plaintiff has no case. Midwest
Knitting Mills, Inc. v. U.S., 950 F.2d 1295 (7th Cir. 1991).
The FTCA operates under a vicarious liability theory. If a suit is brought against
a federal official for a common law tort, the federal government becomes the
defendant. The federal official would be dismissed from the suit, and the
federal government would be the defendant. Any damages awarded to the
plaintiff would be paid by the federal government, not by the federal official.
Therefore, the official will not be held accountable personally for damages
awarded to the plaintiff, as long as the official was working within his scope of
employment. Whether an official was working within the scope of his
employment is determined on a case-by- case basis, but will include any
normal and routine activities associated with the position he holds.