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Tippett v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Frank Tippettfiled suit against the United States after being injured when a park ranger advised him to drive his snowmobile past a moose and the moose charged him.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The federal government is immune from claims brought against them due to a federal employee’s decision or failure to decide to exercise caution.

    Facts.

    Frank Tippett was injured while snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park. A moose attacked other snowmobilers earlier that day and a park ranger advised Tippett to direct his snowmobile past the moose if confronted by it. The moose charged Tippett’s snowmobile, ultimately injuring Tippett. Tippett filed suit against the United States under claims of negligence. The district court granted judgment in favor of the United States, Tippett and his wife appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether the federal government is immune from claims brought against them due to a federal employee’s decision or failure to decide to exercise caution?

    Held.

    Yes. Affirmed. The government met both requirements of the discretionary function exception test and Phillips’ failure to remove the moose displayed Phillips’ stake in balancing the interests of the wildlife with providing public access to the grounds.

    Discussion.

    The Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA) relieves the federal government from immunity for any claim against injuries caused by a federal employee. Exceptions to the FTCA are created when a federal employee or agency fails to exercise discretion, reinstating sovereign immunity to the federal government. To determine whether or not the government qualifies for this exception, the discretionary function exception test must be applied. The two prongs of the discretionary function exception test include: (1) Whether the action at issue was in the control of the government employee, and (2) whether the decision made was the type that the discretionary function exception was designed to protect. Park Ranger Phillips satisfies both prongs of the discretionary function exception test because: (1) The park’s regulations require an employee to restrict access to an area when there is a threat to human life but also to preserve the interest of both wildlife and human life. It is in the employee’s discretion to decide whether or not an animal is a threat to human life; (2) the decision made by Park Ranger Phillips was similar to the policy issues that triggered the institution of the regulations.


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