The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) is a statute designed to allow private individuals a way to hold the government and their employees responsible for tortious acts that they commit. Before the passage of the FTCA, the government was immune from lawsuits based on the theory of sovereign immunity. However, the FTCA allows Indiana injury victims to hold the federal government responsible for their negligent and wrongful acts. However, the FTCA has 13 exceptions to the waiver of immunity, including the often-cited “discretionary function” exception.
The discretionary function exception bars lawsuits based upon claims that arose based on a government actor’s discretionary function or duty. Generally, the court will engage in a two-step inquiry when the government cites this exception. First, the court will look at whether the actions involve an element of judgment or choice, as opposed to a ministerial duty. If an element of choice or judgment exists, then the court will look to whether the judgment was the kind of decision that the exception was designed to shield.
For example, recently, two families sued the United States government under the FTCA when a tree limb fell, killing their sons at a national park. The families filed wrongful death claims against the government, arguing that the park safety officials knew or should have known about the danger of the tree and failed to warn visitors of the threat. The government successfully moved to dismiss the claims, stating that evaluating and responding to the hazard was a discretionary function which was entitled to immunity.