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Sovereign Immunity

Sovereign Immunity is a legal doctrine that protects governments from lawsuits. It stems from an old English common law principle: The king can do no wrong.

Not until 1946 did Congress begin carving out exceptions to this rule as it pertains to injury claims. The Tort Claims Act waived sovereign immunity for certain categories of injuries caused by the United States or Federal employees.

Let’s say you were rear-ended by a postal delivery driver. If you wish to sue, you must first file an administrative claim with the U.S. Postal Service. Be sure to use the Federal government’s claim form, known as Standard Form 95. Click here, and type “standard form 95” into the search box.

One piece of good news for plaintiffs is that lawyers may not charge more than 25% of the settlement for claims against the U.S. The usual fee for these types of cases ranges between 33.3% and 40%. The downside is that you may find it harder to get a lawyer to take your case for 25%. That is probably why the Congress limited legal fees to this amount.

The Third Federal Circuit Court just issued an opinion allowing a suit to proceed by a woman who was egregiously mistreated by TSA agents at the Philly International Airport. The case is Pellegrino v. Transportation Safety Administration, 2019 WL 4125221. The Court held that TSA agents performing airport security checkpoint searches are subject to the Federal Tort Claims Act’s waiver of sovereign immunity and may be held liable for unreasonable searches/detentions.

The state and local governments have passed similar laws waiving governmental immunity in limited situations. For example, if you wish to sue the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you need to review the Sovereign Immunity Act. Click here. The courts have clarified, from time to time, which injuries fit into an exception and which do not. SEPTA, Philadelphia’s public transit authority, is considered a Commonwealth agency. And so, the Sovereign Immunity Act applies. An injury caused by a SEPTA bus or trolley driver is handled under that law. If you are injured by a City of Philadelphia employee, or the employee of any other Pennsylvania city, you need to review the Political Subdivisions Tort Claims Act. Click here. You will find there eight categories of cases that are exceptions to sovereign immunity. You must prove a permanent injury to recover damages under this law.

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