Federal Tort Claims Act Medical Malpractice Lawsuits: Where & How Are They Litigated?
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UPDATED: Aug 5, 2019
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Lawsuits filed against the government fall under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and are litigated very differently than other lawsuits. This article explains where and how Indian Health Service and veterans’ medical malpractice lawsuits are litigated.
Where Are FTCA Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Litigated?
Federal Tort Claim cases which proceed to litigation, are always conducted in Federal District Court – either the Federal District Court nearest where the injury itself took place, or where the claimant resides. For example, if a patient obtained care in Texas, but resides in New Mexico, the opportunity presents itself for the lawsuit to be brought in either jurisdiction. The choice of where to actually file suit usually based on a careful analysis of the competing risks and benefits associated with either jurisdiction.
It is very important to remember that the Federal Tort Claims Act provides for all cases to be heard by the bench, that is by a Federal District Court Judge alone. There is no right – to a jury trial under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
How Are FTCA Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Litigated?
In order to bring the United States into court and actually sue the government through one of its federal agencies, the Federal Tort Claims Act requires that an administrative claim be filed with the responsible agency. For example, in the event that an individual is injured as a result of negligent care provided by the Indian Health Service, then they must present their written complaint to an Indian Health Service regional office within the time allowed (again, two years from ‘discovery’ of the injury). Once received, the federal agency has a period of six months in which they are entitled to investigate the case and make efforts to resolve it through settlement – or to deny the medical malpractice claim.
During that six-month period, the case is essentially frozen and there is no right for the claimant to bring a lawsuit against the U.S. However, after six months elapses, if the government agency has not taken action of some kind, then, by law, the claimant can go ahead and file suit against the United States. The decisions of whether and when to actually take the step of filing suit is one of the most important aspects of hiring an experienced FTCA medical malpractice attorney who understands how the FTCA works.