Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The background and history of the Federal Tort Claims Act" are well known. Stemming in part from the medieval political theory that the King could do no wrong, a doctrine evolved in English law that the Crown was, in the absence of its consent, immune to suit. This concept became a part of the American common law, and in the main was enforced as rigorously on this side of the Atlantic as in the mother country.

The oft-times inequitable consequences of sovereign immunity in the United States were at first sought to be ameliorated through the device of private legislative enactments which appropriated monies for the relief of persons injured by the negligence of Government servants. With the constant increase and diversification of Governmental activity and the concomitant inevitable rise in the volume of injuries inflicted upon members of the public by Governmental employees, the machinery of the private bill system began to break down. At best such a system had been cumbersome and unsatisfactory. Congress had no adequate investigatory facilities to ascertain the facts in a particular case, and the compensating of a claimant would often depend not on the merits of his cause but on the extent of the political and personal pressure he was able to exert. Therefore in 1946 Congress, which had already waived the immunity of the United States in connection with contract claims, extended the waiver to tort actions.