The Federal Tort Claims Act: No Right To A Jury Trial

Under the specific provisions of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) there is no right to a jury trial. See 28 U.S.C. § 2492. This is one of the disadvantages of suing the United States government but because the FTCA is a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, the provisions of the Act control. Simply stated, the limited waiver provisions provide that there is no right to jury trial when suing the United States government. What this means is that once the case is assigned to a United States District Court judge, he or she will not only be the judge that will resolve any legal issues, he or she will also be the Trier of Fact.
Typically the way these cases work, if they cannot be settled, is that a trial will be scheduled in front of the United States District Court. The United States District Court judge will become the finder of fact. Typically, District judges require the parties to submit proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in writing prior to the beginning of the trial. Once the trial begins, of course, there is no necessity that the case be quite as argumentative as it might be in front of a jury nor is there any necessity that counsel try the case as he or she would if a jury were present. Nonetheless, the moving party, the claimant must call witnesses under oath, introduce depositions, call experts and otherwise do the same thing that anyone would do before a jury in order to prove the case by a preponderance of the evidence which is the burden of proof. While a District Court judge has the authority, if they wish, to impanel “an advisory jury” to issue a non-binding ruling on the dispute, most judges dispense with this and try the case by themselves.

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