Florida’s Sovereign Immunity Law And How It Can Affect Your Personal Injury Case
What is sovereign immunity?
Sovereign immunity is a type of legal protection that prevents the United States’ federal or state governments and their departments from being sued for money damages in the case of tort claims (injury claims as a result of negligence) without their consent.
This judicial doctrine was adopted from the law of England before Parliament rose to power. The idea was that the crown was above the people, and English subjects could not file civil lawsuits against the monarchy or its agents. In early American history, the United States couldn’t be sued either by states or by citizens without Congressional approval. Today, although waivers and exceptions have been legalized by federal and state legislatures that authorize certain civil suits against the government, sovereign immunity remains intact. The reasoning behind sovereign immunity in the U.S. is that it is necessary to keep the government democratic, efficient, and effective; if this doctrine were not in place, the courts may be overwhelmed by civil claims, and the executive and legislative branches may not carry out their functions in fear of litigation.
In plain terms, sovereign immunity prevents the average citizen who may have been injured due to the government’s negligence from collecting monetary damages that they would otherwise be able to recover, if the civil suit was filed against another citizen or corporation.
What is Florida’s sovereign immunity law?
Each state has different sovereign immunity laws. Florida Statute 768.28 Title XLV allows individuals to bring a tort claim against the state government when the state’s employees’ actions resulted in property loss, personal injuries, or wrongful deaths. However, there are three major limitations to this waiver (and multiple minor limitations).
The amount of damages that can be recovered in a case against the state is limited to $200,000 against one government agency or $300,000 against multiple government agencies. If a plaintiff believes that they are owed more than that amount, there is a complicated legal process by which they can file a petition with the Florida legislature and request more damages.
Employees of the state of Florida cannot be held personally liable unless their negligence was intentional (acted in bad faith, with malevolent intent, or infringed upon human rights).
Plaintiffs are prevented from collecting punitive damages or pre-judgement interest.
Even if a case involving sovereign immunity goes to trial, judges do not explain these three limitations to the jury. If a jury awards the plaintiff more than $200,000 or $300,00, no matter how much they award (say, $600,000), only $200,000 or $300,000 may be collected by the plaintiff.
Examples of how Florida’s sovereign immunity law can limit damages
Because many people have never heard of Florida’s sovereign immunity law, here are a few examples of cases where sovereign immunity factors into case outcomes.
In March of 2018, a woman in Marion County told her husband that she had swallowed many anti-depressants with alcohol. Her husband called 911, but when the paramedics arrived, the evidence led them not believe the woman’s claims. Her husband did not believe she would want to be Baker-Acted again, so the paramedics left without administering care. However, the woman was not lying and had swallowed over 30 times the normal dose of anti-depressants. She died seven hours later. If the paramedics had taken her to the hospital, she may have been saved. A wrongful death suit was filed, but because of sovereign immunity, the plaintiff only received a settlement of $190,000, no one admitted wrongdoing, and every entity/worker involved was protected from future claims.
You may remember the tragic Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where a gunman opened fire in 2018, killing 17 (both students and faculty) and injuring many others. The families of the victims sued the Broward County School Board and the case made it to the Supreme Court, because there was a clash between the parents and the board over whether the shooting should be defined as a single event or multiple occurences. Sovereign immunity is playing a major role in this case; the Broward school board is arguing that their total liability should be capped at $300,000, but the plaintiffs are fighting for each family to get $200,000 because the shots could be considered separate instances and the same cap does not apply.
Florida’s sovereign immunity law is even factoring into potential coronavirus lawsuits; if public colleges decide to hold sports seasons, and players get infected, can they sue or are the schools protected? This is a current legal debate that is playing out at the end of 2020 and probably into next year, as the pandemic is unprecedented.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can get you what you need
When you are injured due to government negligence, recovering damages can be difficult, and it is absolutely necessary to the success of your case that you trust a skilled personal injury lawyer with a winning reputation. The Florida Law Group is ranked among the top 1% of law firms nationwide. Our lead lawyer, Chris Limberopoulos, is a board certified civil trial specialist, a distinction rare among attorneys. We know exactly what it takes to fight for justice and help you get the sizable settlement you deserve! Call us today to schedule a free case evaluation. You never pay us until we win your case!