Historically, the doctrine of sovereign immunity barred private citizens from filing lawsuits against tortious government employees and entities. In response to the inherent unfairness of this broad prohibition, legislators enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The FTCA (the “Act”) provides Maine citizens a mechanism to sue federal government employees for tortious acts in federal courts. However, the Maine Tort Claim Act (MTCA) is more restrictive and only allows private citizens to sue local and state government entities officials under very particular circumstances.
The MTCA allows injury victims to file lawsuits against Maine government employees and entities in four main situations. First, when the claim for bodily injury or property damage is based on the government’s negligent ownership or maintenance of vehicles, machinery, and equipment. This includes injuries that occur while the government employee is using a car, special mobile equipment, trailers, aircraft, watercraft, and other similar vehicles. Second, the government may face liability when the injury occurs at a public building. Public buildings typically include libraries, police stations, and public schools. However, there are exceptions, and the government is not liable for claims involving injuries from the construction, ownership, or maintenance of historical sites, land buildings, unimproved land, land used for recreation, and dams. Finally, the government may be liable for injuries resulting from the discharge of pollutants and road construction, cleaning, or repair.
Maine accident victims who sustain injuries on federal property may have other avenues for relief based on the FTCA. The FTCA permits injury victims to file a lawsuit in federal court based on injuries that occurred on federal property or by a federal government actor. For example, if an individual suffers injuries at one of the four national parks in Maine, they may be able to file a negligence lawsuit based on the FTCA. However, there are 13 exceptions to the waiver of immunity under the FTCA. The most frequent exception that the government will utilize is the discretionary function exception. This exception bars lawsuits against the government that are based on a government actor’s exercise or failure to perform a discretionary function or duty. Courts will examine two main factors when determining whether the government can employ this exception. First, they must decide if the government employee’s actions involved a judgment or choice. If they determine that an element of choice exists, they will then look to public policy considerations and whether the FTCA was designed to bar this type of lawsuit.