Last fall, the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Nashville, Tennessee made a ruling on a partial summary judgment motion made by the United States in a personal injury case filed against the USPS.
The case, Richardson v. US. Dist. Ct. (M.D. Tenn. 2014), dealt with a personal injury lawsuit following a motorcycle collision with a postal carrier vehicle. The driver of the motorcycle was 15 at the time of the collision. Following the plaintiffs’ contact with the USPS, as they alleged that the collision was due to the USPS driver’s negligence, the plaintiffs were advised to complete a certain form, and that it would have to be completed by the victim’s parents since he was a minor at the time of the collision.
Over a period of several months, the plaintiffs sent communications and documentation regarding the accident, including claims for both property damage and medical expenses stemming from the plaintiff’s injuries. The attorneys retained by the plaintiffs engaged in written communications, including settlement negotiations, with the USPS. Ultimately, the USPS denied both the property and personal injury claims.
Thereafter, the plaintiffs filed suit in federal court, asserting common law negligence and negligence per se against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). At the mandatory settlement conference for the civil suit, the government argued for the first time that the form the plaintiffs had filed, pursuant to directions from a USPS official, was procedurally improper and, therefore, the plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies (as required under the FTCA). Following this revelation, the government filed a motion for partial summary judgment, which this opinion addressed.
The crux of the government’s argument, was that because the minor plaintiff, the individual injured in the accident, was listed on the USPS form, and Tennessee law states that only a minor’s parents can recover for personal injuries of a minor child, the filing was improper and failed to provide the proper notice required under the FTCA.
However, the District Court found two main problems with this supposed defense. First, assuming it had any validity since the defense was never raised before, it was deemed as waived. Secondly, the purpose of requiring administrative exhaustion under the FTCA is to ensure that the proper channels have been taken prior to plaintiffs filing a lawsuit in court.
Here, the government could not argue that it was not on notice of the claim due to a procedural error since its attorneys had literally been engaged in settlement discussions for the underlying claims. Additionally, even though the name of the minor may have been included in error, it was done so on the advice of a USPS employee. Furthermore, the allegedly deficient form certainly met the notice requirement under the FTCA for all of the foregoing reasons.
The court cited to another federal court in stating that “[t]he FTCA was not intended as a trap for the `unwary claimant,’ and the `purpose of 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a) is to provide notice to the relevant federal agency of claims, not to put up a barrier of technicalities to defeat their claims.'”
Therefore, even if the government had not waived the potential defense, the court found that the form, filed at the USPS employee’s direction, and the various communications with the USPS representatives were evidence of sufficient notice. Thus, the court concluded that summary judgment was inappropriate.
If you or a loved one has suffered a personal injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and medical expenses. Contact the experienced Nashville personal injury attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC. We can be reached by phone at 615-800-7096 or through this website.