Monday, November 11, 2013

United States v. Olsen case brief

United States v. Olsen case brief summary
546 U.S. 43 (2005)

Respondent mine workers sued petitioner United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging that the negligence of federal mine inspectors contributed to a mine accident in which the workers were injured. Upon the grant of a writ of certiorari, the government appealed the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which held that the FTCA waived the government's sovereign immunity under these circumstances.


The lower appellate court acknowledged that the FTCA waived the government's sovereign immunity under circumstances where state law would make a private person liable in tort but, since mine inspection was a unique governmental function with no private-sector analogue, immunity was waived under state law which made state or municipal entities liable in the circumstances.


  • The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held, however, that the FTCA required a court to look to the state-law liability only of private entities, not to that of public entities, when assessing the government's liability under the FTCA in the performance of activities which private persons do not perform. 
  • However, further consideration of waiver was required since the inquiry was not limited to the same circumstances as the mine inspection, and a court could look further afield to like circumstances which might create a relationship between the government and third parties similar to that created by mine inspections, such as safety inspections.
The judgment finding that the FTCA waived the government's sovereign immunity for negligence in the mine inspection was vacated, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Suggested Study Aids For Tort Law

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