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FTCA Claims Involving Car Accidents in Michigan with the Government

May 29, 2008 by Steven M. Gursten

A recent case shows how dangerous it is when anyone injured in a car accident with a US postal truck, or any car or truck owned and operated by the federal government (DEA, ATF, FBI, etc) does not comply with the requirements of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Unlike all other car accidents and truck accidents in Michigan, which have a 3 year statute of limitations to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit, with no required period to give notice of the injury and accident, claims against federal government vehicles must adhere to a more stringent set of rules.

Notice of Injury Claim – Form 95 – within 2 Years
Under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) notice of an injury claim must be made within 2 years of the car accident or truck accident to the appropriate Federal Agency that caused the automobile accident. Notice is made by completing an administrative claim form, also known as a Form 95. For example, if you are injured in a motor vehicle accident with a post office mail truck, the Form 95 administrative claim notice form must be sent to the US Postal Agency.
If the claim is denied, you have only 6 months from the date of the denial to hire a lawyer and to file a personal injury lawsuit against that federal agency.

Any property damage claims made under the Michigan Mini Tort will also not be resolved prior to a complete settlement of all claims. You must include a claim for all property damage in your initial Form 95 notice.

A recent case shows how important this exception is to the normal 3 year statute of limitations in Michigan. On May 21, 2008, the case of James Myers and Ellen Eckert against the United States of America, No. 07-3817 was dismissed. The case stemmed from a serious car accident involving Ms Eckert and a US mail truck. In this case, Ms Eckert said she did not receive the denial letter or was unaware that Myers, the owner of the car she was in, had accepted the letter when it was delivered via certified mail. Without being sent an individual notice after she had submitted an administrative claim form, and therefore the six month statute of limitations provided in 28 U.S.C. Section 2401(b) was never triggered. The government argued that the US Postal Service was not obligated to issue Ms. Eckert a denial notice individually. In dismissing the personal injury case against the government, the Sixth Circuit noted that under the FTCA, a claim against the United States for money damages stemming from a personal injury lawsuit cannot be filed unless the person has first presented the claim to the appropriate federal agency and the claim has already been denied by the agency in writing and sent by certified or registered mail under 28 USC Section 2675 (a). This denial letter will state the reasons why the claim is being denied, and informs the injured party that they have six months from the date of the letter to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit. In the case involving Myers and Eckert, the postal service complied with the statute by sending one denial letter that addressed both Myers and Eckert. Finding the postal agency complied with the “letter of the law,” the personal injury lawsuit of Ellen Eckert was dismissed because she had not filed a lawsuit within 6 months of the denial letter.

As an aside, Michigan lawyers must also remember that attorney fees when suing under the FTCA is limited to 20%, which means that most of the contingency fee contracts that unsuspecting lawyers have with clients to represent them in car accident lawsuits against a federal governmental agency are not valid.

Other Dangerous Exceptions with Michigan’s 3 Year Auto Accident Statute of Limitations
Underinsurance Contract Claims

Another exception that can snare the unwary involves car accidents where a person has underinsured motorist coverage, or UIM coverage. Underinsured Motorist Coverage is a claim that can be made against a person’s own auto insurance company for an amount over an at-fault driver’s policy limit.

The Michigan Supreme Court has allowed auto insurance companies to shorten the mandatory 3 year statute of limitations in claims against a person’s own auto insurance companies, in some cases to as soon as 1 year after a car accident.

Therefore, our lawyers always recommend when people are unsure or have questions about their own auto insurance coverage or legal rights that they consult with a Michigan attorney experienced in litigating car accident injury cases. Once a contractual statute of limitations has passed, such as with underinsured motorist coverage, an injured person’s cause of action is lost, no matter how serious his or her injuries.

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