Decades-Old Loophole Lets Postal Service Escape the Law

For public safety organizations such as the Buck Creek Fire Department, hosting and getting the word out on fundraisers is key to serving the public. Even a seemingly simple event requires the coordination of vendors and service providers able to follow through on their promises.

In this case, one key provider, the U.S. Postal Service, dropped the ball. The service failed to mail all of the fliers for the event, despite the fire department spending nearly $4,000 in printing and postage costs. According to event organizer Lisa Spitznagle, “Certain people are not getting these fliers and this is years in the making … they are just not getting them delivered and multiple people in the same area.”

If a paper printing company agreed to print fliers for the event, accepted payment, and didn’t follow through on the job, the breach of contract would naturally have legal consequences.

But despite thousands of dollars in lost fundraising money, the fire department — or any group in a similar situation — can’t take the Postal Service to task for breaking delivery promises. Like most of the federal government, the service uses something called “sovereign immunity” to shield itself from legal claims. But unlike most of the government, the Postal Service conducts itself as a business with regular, paying consumers (even using “.com” rather than “.gov” in their web address).

As a pseudo-agency of the federal government, the Postal Service can claim sovereign immunity should a consumer try to take them to court. This isn’t always the case; physical damages resulting from a postal vehicle collision (or any federal vehicle) would fall under the “tort” section of the Federal Tort Claims Act. But any sort of negligence, miscarriage, and/or loss of mail is simply not open to legal liability. This goes above and beyond understandable delivery/handling issues, such as weather and infrastructure problems.

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