When Is A Federal Employee Legally Responsible To Others?

Jan 15, 2010

Federal Employee

Working for the federal government may raise the likelihood of people making claims of injury caused by your actions. Consider a federal prison guard struggling with a prisoner, or a nurse in a veteran’s hospital trying to restrain a patient, or a postal worker driving a mail van in a collision with a citizen, these are all instances that could put federal employees at risk.

The injured party might make a legal claim simply because they think either you or the government have “deep pockets” from which to draw a bounty.

As a federal employee, you are like any other employee: they have a vested interest in protecting themselves from frivolous lawsuits. You understandably need to know if the government will provide you with an attorney to protect you, and If the attorney is being paid by the government will he be looking out for your best interest or for the government’s best interest?

The short answer is it probably depends upon your conduct that initiated the legal complaint by the injured party.

If your conduct was expected as a part of your employment you will probably not be individually responsible – because you were within the “scope of your employment” you will have “immunity” from the prosecution.

In that type of case, the claimant would probably have to proceed only against the government itself under what is known as the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

It is possible, though, that the facts of the particular situation might snare you. For example, if you violate someone’s constitutional rights you might become personally liable in what is known as a Bivens action.

Some court decisions after Bivens have tried to limit this exposure somewhat, however, by requiring that it only apply if the employee “violated a clearly established statutory or constitutional right of which a reasonable person would have known.”

It is possible for the government to have them (the government) removed as the defendant in some lawsuits while the employee remains individually liable. Even in these situations the employee ordinarily will have government attorneys provided in his defense. The Department of Justice regulations state the department will provide representation:

“when the actions for which representation is requested reasonably appear to have been performed within the scope of the employee’s employment and the Attorney General, or his designee, determines that providing representation would otherwise be in the interest of the United States.”

Even if the government provides you with an attorney I would suggest you have a personal attorney follow the case on your behalf. As an extra measure of protection, you may want to check to see if you have “umbrella” coverage in your homeowner’s insurance policy for your personal liability for negligent acts.

If you do, that policy might provide the benefit of paying for your attorney, even if he is just providing a following role mentioned above.

Of course, the overall best plan of action is to be vigilant, limit your comments until you seek counsel, and document unusual situations for your own protection.

If you are a Federal Employee that is needing assistance with your federal claim, then contact us to schedule a FREE consultation with us.

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