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Rick Shapiro
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U.S. Supreme Court Allows Suits Against Postal Carriers for Creating Tripping Hazards

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Long ago, the federal government and its agents could not be sued for torts (a civil wrong). However, the federal government passed an act called the Federal Tort Claims Act many years ago that allows suits for negligence against federal agents, including postmen, if they are negligent and the negligence leads to injuries.

What if your postal carrier leaves your box in a strange position outside your front door and you trip over that box causing personal injury? Can you sue? The U.S. Postal Service argued that there was a special federal law exception that gave postal carriers immunity from a lawsuit if an injury arose out of mail that was delivered late, in a damage condition, or to a wrong address. Lawyers for the person injured when tripping over a delivered postal package, argued that this particular immunity to the postal service only applied to a suit alleging some damage because of a late delivered parcel.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed and has held that postal carriers can be sued if their negligence causes a slip and fall injury. In other words, there is no exception for postal carriers. Like many other federal agents, they can be sued if their negligence leads to personal injury in many circumstances.

The Supreme Court specifically stated:

Had Congress intended to preserve immunity for all torts related to postal delivery — torts including hazardous mail placement at customer homes — it could have used…sweeping language….by instead carefully delineat[ing] just three types of harm (lost, miscarriage and negligent transmission), Congress expressed the intent to immunize only a subset of postal wrongdoing, not all torts committed in the course of mail delivery.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision was Dolan v. USPS, decided February 22, 2006.

Federal agents may be sued for torts in many circumstances, including circumstances where a federal employee causes an automobile or trucking accident through negligent operation of a vehicle. There are many other instances where such suits can be brought under the Federal Torts Claim Act, however, the suits must be filed in federal court and no jury trials are available, among other exceptions.