Injured Congressman Treated Like Other Federal Employees and Loses Lawsuit

There is a process for a federal employee to use when injured on the job. What happens with the “federal employee” in question is a Member of Congress. One Congressman wanted to be treated differently and went to court to avoid waiting in line.

A Congressman from Oklahoma, apparently unpersuaded by the argument that the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) is the exclusive remedy for feds (including congresspersons) injured on the job, sued the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act for his injuries. The federal district court has now granted the government’s motion to dismiss the case in Sullivan v. United States of America, D.D.C. Civil Action No. 05-1418 (CKK), 4/13/07.

Congressman John Sullivan (1st District of Oklahoma) was a passenger in an aide’s car on the way back to work after giving a speech to a private group in the District of Columbia. When they passed through the Cannon House Office Building checkpoint, a security barrier was inadvertently lowered, the car hit the barrier, and the airbag deployed injuring the congressman. He was treated for facial cuts and an eye injury at George Washington University Hospital. (Opinion p. 2)

In the unenviable position of litigating with a member of Congress, the government nevertheless moved to dismiss Sullivan’s tort claim on the basis that FECA is the exclusive remedy when a federal employee is injured on the job. The government argued that Sullivan must first file a claim with the Secretary of Labor. It asked the court to stay Sullivan’s suit until he could file such a claim and the Secretary could determine whether the congressman’s injury was compensable under FECA. The court granted the stay. (pp. 3-4)

Several months later, the Secretary of Labor accepted the congressman’s claim. The government now has asked the district court to dismiss the congressman’s suit. Sullivan opposed that motion in a desire to keep the case open until his FECA claim has been paid.

The court sided with the government: “FECA is an exclusive remedy against the United States for a federal employee who has sustained personal injury ‘while in the performance of his duty…’ Notwithstanding Plaintiff’s statement that ‘Plaintiff has not received a penny to date,…’ the Court does not have any authority to question the Secretary’s designation or the manner in which the Secretary issues an award to Plaintiff under FECA.” (p. 7)

Apparently Congressman Sullivan will just have to wait his turn while the Labor Department processes his FECA claim.

Kind of refreshing, isn’t it?

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.