Supreme Court Allows Injury Suits Against U.S. Postal Service


Most governmental entities have sovereign immunity from civil suits, which mean that they can't be sued civilly, or can only be sued under certain limited circumstances. Most governing bodies, however, have waived their sovereign immunity, at least to a degree.

The United States Postal Service may be sued in accordance with the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), but with certain limitations-and until recently, those limitations hadn't been clearly established at the national level.

The confusion arose from language in the Postal Reorganization Act which excludes suits based on "postal operations".

In the case decided by the United States Supreme Court this spring, a Pennsylvania woman was injured when she tripped over mail left on her porch. That seemed to fall within the FTCA's grant of federal jurisdiction over claims against the United States for money damages for injury, loss of property, personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment if that person would have been liable for that action and the resulting injury if not a governmental employee.

After the woman's administrative injury claim was denied, she sued in federal district court and the case was dismissed. That court found that delivery of the mail by leaving it on the porch was part of the "transmission" of the mail. That, according to the postal service and the district court, barred the claim because the waiver of governmental immunity specifically does not apply to claims arising out of the "loss, miscarriage, or negligent transmission of letters or postal matters".

The United States Supreme Court, in a 7-1 ruling, said otherwise. Justice Kennedy wrote for the Court that the intention of the cited statute was only to protect the Postal Service against claims arising from late delivery of mail or mail being lost or damaged. Thus, the door seems to have been opened for claims against the U.S. Postal Service for damages arising out of the negligent transmission of mail, so long as those damages aren't based on loss of, damage to, or late delivery of the mail itself.

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