Jan 8, 2021 - Economy

Feds shielded against insurance claims from Capitol breach

Image of taped-up bullet holes at the U.S. Capitol following protests there 1/6/21.

Pockmarks from bullets fired at the doors to the House of Representatives during the Capitol siege. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Families of the people who died in Wednesday's attack on the Capitol — and others who were there — will have a hard time filing suit or recovering damages from the federal government.

Why it matters: That's because the government is self-insured, and thus largely protected from such claims. Normally, a public disturbance of the size and scale seen this week might trigger lawsuits, but that might prove difficult in this case.

Where it stands: Since the U.S. government is self-insured, it has no commercial insurance.

  • "Any damage, lawsuits, necessary repairs, or expenses are paid for by U.S. Government resources," per the Insurance Information Institute.
  • From a liability perspective, the Federal Tort Claim Act will likely protect the government from any lawsuits, should the estates of the people who were killed decide to sue.
  • That 1946 law means that "suing a federal government entity for damages in a personal injury claim is more challenging than suing a private citizen or corporation," per Justia.

Different rules apply for the family of Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, who died from injuries sustained while confronting protesters:

  • The Capitol police are under the jurisdiction of the District of Columbia; their workers compensation includes death benefits.
  • "The Capitol Police can’t sue the federal government under workers comp," which provides immunity from negligence, Loretta L. Worters, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, tells Axios.
  • However, the family or estate of a Capitol police officer could sue third parties if they believe they were negligent — so that could include the rioters, she added.

The backstory: "It appears the government has been self-insured because of the enormity of the costs if it were through the regular market," Worters said, citing a 1972 report to Congress on the issue.

  • While the situation would seem to protect the feds from claims, "there could be an issue with the fact the government knew about the demonstration" in advance and could have been better prepared, Worters said.
  • ‘This is such a fluid thing and so different from anything we’ve ever seen," she added.
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