If you are involved in a serious accident or tragedy, good firefighting tactics will not protect you from the scope of federal investigations, and/or potential criminal prosecutions and personal capacity lawsuits. Fire management decisions are made in a compressed time frame and only with the information available at the time of the occurring incident. The decisions made at the time of the occurrence, however, are scrutinized with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight - and - applied to the inexactness of the 10 Standing Firefighting Orders and the discretionary nature of mitigating the 18 Watchout Situations in a political environment that demands accountability.
FEDS professional liability insurance (PLI) provides legal representation and indemnity protection for those circumstances in which you may have to provide for your own legal defense and/or be held personally liable for acts, errors or omissions arising out of your federal scope of employment. FEDS PLI provides coverage in three separate categories protecting against administrative, civil and criminal exposures.
Administrative & Disciplinary Matters
The most common allegations of wrongdoing against federal firefighters resulting in investigations include, but are not limited to:
- Alleged failure to identify or secure safety zones;
- Any investigation following a burnover, entrapment or fatality;
- Alleged violation of one of the 10 Standing Firefighting Orders;
- Alleged work/rest ratio violation;
- Alleged violation of one of the 18 Watchout Situations;
- Alleged failure to follow supervisory or safety instructions;
- Allegations of negligent performance of duties;
- Alleged failure to supervise;
- Any alleged safety violation; or
- A non-fire related allegation while in the performance of your duties.
FEDS PLI provides you with an attorney experienced in federal matters to prepare you for the agency administration or investigation process, (this includes any OIG, LE&I, OSOH, Congressional or any agency directed investigation), attend the investigative interview with you, defend against allegations, and defend you in any resulting disciplinary action, both at the agency level and MSPB.
If you are a manager or supervisor, you may also need to invoke your policy benefits due to employee allegations of EPLI type claims such as harassment, discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and whistleblower reprisal. The FEDS policy provides coverage for these claims at no additional cost.
In the aftermath of the Thirtymile tragedy and the passage of Public Law 107-203, federal wildland firefighters can be subjected to criminal investigations involving serious accidents such as burnovers, entrapments and fatalities. Participating in investigations that are assessing whether the incident commander or other employees were negligent, (regardless of unpredictable weather conditions, the presence of dangerous fuels, etc.) and ultimately contributed in the death of a private person or fellow fire fighter should never be conducted without your own personal criminal attorney present. FEDS would assign you your own criminal defense attorney to defend throughout the criminal investigation and prosecution up to the limits established in your policy.
If you are not familiar with the legal aftermath of recent tragedies such as Thirtymile, Cramer and Esperanza, please read Tony Vergnetti’s open letter to the federal wildland firefighting community.
Civil Lawsuits / Bivens Actions
Federal employees in all types of jobs and performing all kinds of federal functions can be sued in your personal capacity by private persons or other entities. While the Department of Justice (DOJ) will represent you in most of these and other civil suits (and you will have some level of immunity to avoid personal liability), this is not always the case. Although very rare, there are lawsuits filed against federal employees in which DOJ will not provide a defense—even when the employee is acting within his or her scope of employment—and for which the employee can be held personally liable.
- For administrative matters, your FEDS policy will pay for legal defense (up to $200,000) to defend the allegations prepare you for the agency administrative or investigation process, attend the investigative interview with you, and defend you in any resulting disciplinary action at both the agency level and at the MSPB.
- If you are the subject of a criminal investigation, FEDS will pay for legal defense up to $100,000.
- If you are sued, as a FEDS policy holder, you would be provided with an attorney to defend you in the civil action. Also, if there were a civil monetary judgment issued against you, your FEDS policy would pay up to $1,000,000 (or $2,000,000 depending on the policy you choose) of the judgment in the event that the U.S. Government declines to indemnify you.
FEDS Protection is Affordable:
$1,000,000 Limit; Annual Premium is $290 plus SL tax
$2,000,000 Limit; Annual Premium is $390 plus SL tax
Enrollment takes just a few minutes AND payroll deduction is available.