The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allows private individuals to file suit against the federal government and its agencies for certain torts committed by persons acting on behalf of the United States. However, the FTCA provides only a limited right and exempts certain claims. For example, the FTCA exempts a number of intentional torts as well as claims based on the performance or failure to perform a “discretionary function or duty.” This means that if a Maryland truck accident case involving a federal employee or entity is based on a discretionary function or duty (the discretionary-function exception), the case will be dismissed.
Whether a claim is based on a discretionary function or duty is the subject of much litigation. Courts have held that the conduct cannot be considered discretionary if there is a directive that an employee has no choice but to follow. If the conduct does involve an element of discretion, courts must also consider whether the discretion is actually or potentially affected by legitimate policy-related decisions. If the conduct is discretionary and is affected by legitimate policy-related decisions, the exception applies, and the government is immune from suit. If the federal government claims that it is immune from suit under the FTCA, the government has the burden to prove that an exception applies.
In a recent FTCA claim before a federal appeals court, the court considered a truck accident case involving an individual who was delivering mail for the U.S. Postal Service. In that case, the individual working for a contractor that was delivering mail for the Postal Service rear-ended a school bus, leaving two students severely injured. The plaintiff sued the Postal Service under the Federal Tort Claims Act, alleging that it was negligent for failing to inspect the contractor’s vehicles. The Postal Service argued that the case should be dismissed under the discretionary function exception.