During the summer, many people enjoy visiting some of our country’s 423 national park sites. From camping and hiking to visiting historical monuments, our national parks have a lot to offer. However, what happens if you are injured while in a national park? Who is liable for your injuries, and how can you hold them responsible? Below we take a look at how premises liability cases are handled when they involve national parks and what you should do if you are injured.
Who Is Liable for Injuries Sustained in a National Park?
Generally speaking, if you are injured on someone else’s property and as a result of the property owner’s negligence, the property owner is held liable for your injuries. This is because private property owners are responsible for keeping their property reasonably safe for visitors and adequately warning visitors of potential hazards. When injuries happen, you have the option of filing a premises liability lawsuit against the property owner.
But what happens when the property owner is the federal government, and you are injured on public lands?
It used to be that the government enjoyed what is called “sovereign immunity,” and individuals could not bring personal injury claims against the federal government without express permission from the government. However, since the passing of the Federal Tort Claims Act in 1946, injured individuals may be able to bring personal injury claims against the federal government.
What Is the Federal Tort Claims Act?
According to the Federal Tort Claims Act, “individuals who are injured or whose property is damaged by the wrongful or negligent act of a federal employee acting within his or her official duties may file a claim with the government for reimbursement for that injury or damage.” For example, if you are injured while visiting a national park, and that injury is a direct result of the negligence of a federal employee, you may have grounds to sue the federal government for reimbursement for your injuries and any related damages.
However, before you can file a claim, you must confirm that your situation does indeed qualify under the FTCA.
For a claim to be valid, the person filing the claim must prove that:
- They were injured (or their property was damaged) by a federal employee
- When the injury or damage occurred, the federal employee was acting within the scope of their official duties
- The employee’s actions were negligent or wrongful
- The negligent or wrongful act on the part of the employee directly caused the claimants injuries or reported damage
Were You Injured While Visiting a National Park?
When filing an FTCA claim, you will initially file an administrative claim with the federal agency directly involved with your case. Therefore, if your injuries were a result of negligence on the part of a National Park Service employee, you would file your claim with the National Park Service. Meanwhile, if you were injured at the post office, you would file your claim with the U.S. Postal Service.
You must file your initial administrative claim within two years of your injury, after which the government agency has six months to respond. If the agency rejects your claim, you then only have six months to file a lawsuit in federal court.
If you were injured while visiting a national park, you should reach out to a personal injury lawyer right away. Filing an FTCA claim is a complicated process, and you must follow the required procedure exactly to avoid your case being thrown out. Working with a skilled, experienced lawyer can help you put your best foot forward and increases your likelihood of a favorable outcome.
After an injury, you should:
- Document when, where, and how the injury occurred – take pictures if you are able and get statements and contact information from any witnesses
- Document your injuries and keep records of any reports that may be filed with the police, park rangers, or other government officials
- Seek medical attention and keep a record of all doctor’s visits, treatments, rehabilitation, etc. associated with your injuries and their respective costs
- Document any other injury-related issues, such as missed work, temporary or permanent disability, etc.
Provide all this information and anything else you may think is relevant to your attorney. They will then help you file your FTCA claim against the government.
At Hope Law Firm, we look forward to our summer vacations just as much as you do. However, we also know that despite our best efforts, injuries can happen. If you were injured while visiting a national park, reach out to our law firm for guidance. We can help you determine if you have grounds to file an FTCA claim against the federal government.