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Federal Government Shutdowns And Personal Law

Let’s set aside the politics and the finger-pointing for now. The federal government has recently shut down thanks to budget disagreements in Congress, and this wasn’t the first time: the government has furloughed workers a total of nine times since 1980, with the most recent being the 2013 shutdown during the Obama administration. State and local governments can also shut down, although it hasn’t happened in Florida in recent memory.

The federal government doesn’t control everything around us, and so for some people, it can be hard to tell how a federal government shutdown can affect them. If you’re a federal employee and your job isn’t essential or if you don’t work for an agency like Social Security, then you’ll probably feel the effects of the shutdown immediately. But for the rest of us, the shutdown can have more subtle effects, and some of those intersect with personal injury laws.

Current Personal Injury Cases

Most personal injury cases fall under state jurisdiction, which means they go to state-run courts and appeals circuits. This means that the vast majority of ongoing personal injury cases won’t hit any bumps or hiccups, and you’ll be able to file complaints and new cases no matter how long a federal shutdown goes on.

However, there are some personal injury cases that go through federal courts, either because they’ve reached a federal appeals court or because they take place in Washington, D.C. Even injuries that take place on federal land, like national parks, are almost always handled in state courts. For these cases, the federal courts can stay open for around one to two weeks, but after that they shut down. Also, federal employees can’t sue the government for furloughing them, but the essential employees can sue if they don’t get their wages on time.

Product Safety

Federal regulators like the FDA and the USDA are affected by government shutdowns. Without money to continue their operations, the FDA can’t approve or evaluate drugs and the USDA can’t inspect any meat or dairy products. And while this doesn’t mean that all the food you eat will be tainted if it comes out during a shutdown, it does mean that food poisoning is more likely to happen.

On the bright side, the shutdown and the lack of inspections have no effect on your legal right to compensation if you get sick from tainted food. A lack of federal oversight is no excuse for a company to ignore safe food-handling practices or abandon their own food safety inspections.

Workplace Safety

Other regulators that shut down with the federal government include OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This is the organization that makes sure businesses maintain a safe and healthy environment for their employees.

Much like the USDA, an OSHA shutdown probably won’t have a big impact in the short term. OSHA doesn’t inspect any one business often unless they get a tip or complaint from an employee, so unless a business is already very unsafe you probably won’t notice a big difference. Also, workplace compensation is state-run and regulated, so workplace injuries covered by workers’ comp and any disagreements or lawsuits that come from it will not be affected by the federal shutdown.

So to sum up, personal injury lawsuits are almost entirely unaffected by a federal government shutdown, which is not the case for patent and trademark lawsuits which are exclusively handled by federal courts. However, since federal regulators can’t do their jobs, the risk of an avoidable injury does go up. And for their part, state shutdowns can have a major impact on the personal injury cases going through their courts.

So when a federal shutdown rears its ugly head, you should expect most federal services to stop for a while, but unless you depend on them or you have an ongoing federal case you shouldn’t expect to notice too much of a difference. Just remember to keep your safety in mind and be prepared to call a lawyer if things go badly.

Michael J. Babboni's wide-ranging legal career is based on the strong belief that everyone should be treated fairly and have access to effective legal help. Michael began putting his beliefs in action by helping the people of St. Petersburg Florida get what they are owed in civil trials fighting to protect families by making corporations pay, and honor their obligations.

Federal Government Shutdowns And Personal Law

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh

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