Can I Sue USPS?
Yes, depending on your claim, you may be able to sue the United States Postal Service (USPS). You can't sue for lost mail, so consider getting insurance for a particular package. You can also send it through certified mail to receive proof that the mail got delivered. But if you seek to recover for personal injuries, you can sue the U.S. Postal Service if you follow the proper procedures.
Suing the postal service isn't easy. You need to navigate through the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA); if you don't do it right, your claim will get barred. So, if you are considering suing USPS, consult an experienced personal injury attorney knowledgeable about the FTCA.
The United States Postal Service employs more people than any independent government agency. As of 2021, the USPS reported having 516,636 career employees and another 136,531 non-career employees. That's roughly the population of Boston.
It's also one of the busiest federal agencies. The USPS operates a fleet of more than 230,000 vehicles and more than 30,000 retail outlets. It processes and delivers 46% of the world's mail, an average of 425.3 million pieces daily. It's the only organization with the resources, network, infrastructure, and logistical capability to serve every residential and business address in the country. If it were a private sector company, the USPS would rank 43rd in the 2021 Fortune 500.
Next Generation Delivery Vehicles (NGDVs)
The USPS is updating its fleet of delivery vehicles, which has generated much controversy. In February 2021, the USPS announced it had awarded Oshkosh Defense an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quality contract to produce between 50,000 and 165,000 new vehicles over 10 years. The contract included zero-emission battery electric vehicles (EVs) and fossil-fuel-powered vehicles, with the bulk of the delivery trucks being fossil-fuel-powered.
The Oshkosh Defense contract gave rise to much resistance. Various environmental justice organizations and environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, objected, contending that fossil-fuel-powered vehicles should get phased out entirely. In February 2022, the Council on Environmental Quality chair issued a statement that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had identified major concerns with its environmental review of the contract.
On April 28, 2022, California and 15 other states, the City of New York, the District of Columbia, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the USPS and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for failing to follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA requires agencies to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). While the USPS issued its EIS in February 2022, the plaintiffs alleged the EIS, among other things, failed to adequately consider climate change's impact or state and local laws limiting greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption.
USPS Isn't Perfect
With all that mail USPS delivers, there are bound to be problems. Imagine, for example, you are scrambling during the holiday season, trying to get presents mailed to everyone on your guest list. You pay the USPS extra to ensure a package arrives on Christmas Eve. You text Christmas morning, excited to hear if the intended recipient liked the gift, only to find out the package didn't arrive. It's annoying.
Sometimes, the problems are more than mere annoyances. With all those vehicles on the streets, there are bound to be accidents — roughly 29,000 of them in 2019. If you're lucky, your car gets dinged up. If you're not, you wind up in an ambulance on your way to the hospital.
Say you're one of those who gets hit by a USPS driver in a mail truck accident. You spend months in rehab learning to walk again. There's no way you'll be able to pay your medical bills. You lose a ton of time from work. Your family is telling you you should sue the USPS, and you think that sounds like a pretty good idea. So, you meet with an experienced personal injury attorney in your area and ask if you can.
They tell you there are some steps you have to take, but you likely can. First, they give you a little background.
The first thing your lawyer talks about is something called sovereign immunity. In the old days, it was up to a king to decide whether he could get sued and, if so, in what manner. When our nation declared its independence, we inherited this legal doctrine. Today, sovereign immunity means you can't sue the government unless it says you can in a statute (law).
But it's not just about whether you can sue the government. Under sovereign immunity, the government can decide how to use it. For example, a law that says you can sue the government can still restrict lawsuits to a particular court or a particular type of claim or even impose limits on the amount you can recover. So, before you rush off to court, make sure your complaint is one that a court has the power to hear.
The Federal Tort Claims Act
Congress waived sovereign immunity in the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946 (FTCA). The FTCA allows you to recover from the federal government for personal injury, wrongful death, or property damage caused by the negligence of a federal employee acting within the scope of their employment.
Negligence is a civil claim you can bring if you get injured because someone fails to use reasonable care. To establish a negligence claim, you need to prove the following elements:
- Duty: a legal obligation recognized by the law to use reasonable care toward another
- Breach of duty: the failure to use reasonable care toward another
- Causation: a legally recognized connection between the failure to use reasonable care and injuries sustained by another (lawyers split this into two and call them proximate cause and cause-in-fact)
- Damages: legally recognized and provable losses resulting from the failure to use reasonable care
Your lawyer starts asking you a bunch of questions about the car accident. They want to know where you were, what you were doing, what the mail truck was doing, what speed it was going, whether they had a green light — all the details you can remember. You happened to be in the crosswalk, and the mail truck ran a red light. Your lawyer seems satisfied that you could make out the elements of a negligence claim.
They then start asking you about your damages. They want to know about your injuries, the time you spent in rehab, your pain and suffering, the time you lost from work, your salary, and your medical bills. They tell you chances are good that you can get compensated for the losses you sustained due to the driver's negligence.
Scope of Employment
Your lawyer then turns to whether the postal carrier was operating the mail truck within the scope of their employment. Under the FTCA, a government agency is only responsible for its employees' negligence if they acted within the scope of their employment at the time of an accident. This means they were doing their job on behalf of their employer.
Say the accident happened in the middle of the day when the postal carrier was on their way back to the post office after mail delivery. Your lawyer seems satisfied that you can show that the postal carrier was acting within the scope of their employment when they hit you.
You feel relieved at the prospect of recovering the losses you sustained and ask about the next steps. Your lawyer tells you that you can't file a lawsuit just yet. The FTCA requires you to follow specific procedures. Screw these up, and your claim could get barred.
File a Claim With the Agency
Your first step is to file a claim with USPS. You typically use a specific form, Standard Form 95 (as long as your claim contains the required information, you don't have to use the form). You must submit your claim within two years from when the claim accrues (typically two years from the date of the accident). If you don't, your claim will get barred.
Your lawyer then pulls out a blank SF 95 form to show you the information you need to compile to fill it out. As you will see, you generally need to provide:
- Some basic information about yourself (such as your date of birth and your contact information)
- The basis of your claim (the facts about where the accident happened, who was involved, and the cause and nature of the accident)
- A description of your injuries (the USPS will want itemized bills)
- The names and addresses of any witnesses
- The amount of your claim (under the FTCA, you have to request a specific dollar amount)
- Information about any insurance coverage you may have
You can fill this claim out on your own, but when you look at it and realize how complete and careful you need to be, you are happy to have a lawyer on your side. They start reviewing the information you must compile to prove your claims, such as wage statements and medical bills.
Your lawyer tells you that once you submit your claim, the USPS will decide whether to pay it. They could seek more information, investigate, and negotiate with your lawyer about the amount. In the end, if you agree on an amount, USPS will pay your claim. If your claim gets paid, you can't then sue the USPS.
If the USPS denies your claim, it will let you know in writing. If you are unsatisfied with the denial (as you most likely would be), you have six months from the date the denial was mailed to file a lawsuit in federal court. If you don't file your lawsuit within those six months, your claim will get barred.
You Have Homework to Do
You tell your lawyer you don't have all your bills with you. You also need to gather information that would show the wages you lost due to your injuries. Your lawyer tells you not to worry. They can help you with that. They ask about your employer, where you got treatment for your injuries, and where you did your rehab. Your lawyer fills out some forms for you to sign — releases that let them gather your records — and have you sign them before you leave their office. They tell you they will get started and be in touch.
You Can't Sue for Lost Mail
Pleased, you shake your lawyer's hand and turn to leave. By the way, you ask, you have a question about that Christmas package you sent that got lost in the mail. You are upset about that — you did pay extra so it would get there in time — and wonder if you can sue the USPS for it.
Your lawyer smiles and tells you that you are out of luck. Remember sovereign immunity? The FTCA has a specific exception for "any claim arising out of the loss, miscarriage, or negligent transmission of letters or postal matter." In other words, the government retains sovereign immunity for claims relating to lost mail. So, while you might be able to sue FedEx or UPS for losing a package, you can't sue the USPS. As your lawyer shows you out, they suggest you file a missing mail claim with the USPS. Next time, you'll pay for insurance.
Before Suing the USPS, Speak With a Lawyer
Filing a lawsuit against the USPS is a complicated process. You must follow the proper steps and file your claim in time, or you can't sue USPS.
You can try to do this on your own, but you'd have much better luck if you had the help of an experienced accident attorney. A lawyer can give you legal advice about your claim within an attorney-client relationship, let you ask related questions, and help you decide whether a lawsuit is in your best interests.