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Seeking recovery against federal health care providers: an overview of the FTCA, P.1

In our previous post, we looked at the VA’s recent admission that it failed to provide qualified professionals to conduct proper screening for traumatic brain injury on thousands of patients. As we noted, such a failure would ordinarily be considered grounds for liability were it not for the fact that medical professionals working for a government institution are immune from personal liability for negligence.

Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, federally supported health centers, their employees and eligible contractors are considered immune from lawsuits and the Federal government acts as their insurer. This means that those who are treated at health centers funded by the Health Center Program are unable to sue individual physicians and staff members, or the institutions, for medical malpractice or medical negligence. 

Immunity only applies, though, when the employees are acting within the scope of their employment. The scope of employment rule would exclude actions taken by federal health care employees which are clearly not part of their job duties. Typically, though, this will not be a major issue in FTCA litigation.

The Federal Tort Claims Act allows those who have been injured by the negligence of health care center employees to directly sue the federal government to recover damages. Claims filed under the law are review and litigated by several federal departments, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, and the Office of the General Counsel.

In our next post, we’ll look briefly at the FTCA claims process and why it is important to work with an experienced attorney when pursuing such cases. 

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