Every day, thousands of people are injured due to the negligence of a state agency Whether it be a car accident with a city-owned vehicle, or a trip and fall in a state-owned facility, state agencies have the same duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent accidents as any private party.
In Florida, if you’re injured as a result of someone else’s carelessness or negligence, you usually have the option of pursuing insurance money or filing a personal injury lawsuit to get compensation for your injuries. Claimants injured by the negligence of the government or one of its employees in Florida, however, will need to play by a different set of rules. When we use the word “government” in this article, we are referring to a governmental entity for a city, county, or the State of Florida. We are not referring to claims against the Federal Government.
Claims against the government are limited. Unlike a personal injury claim against a private individual where you can either settle for up to the insurance policy limits or get a judgment at trial for your full damages, the government has an exception called sovereign immunity. The government regularly waives this immunity for instances in which it is negligent. The government decides if you are allowed to sue and then limits the recovery up to $200K per person or $300K per tort claim. Details below:
Florida Laws on Suing the Government for Negligence
Florida Statutes section 768.28 governs claims filed against the state, including counties and cities. Through this law, the State of Florida has conditionally waived its right to immunity from liability in certain situations. Under these rules, a person who is injured by the state government or a government employee in Florida may file a claim and ask for compensation from the government if:
- the injury was caused by negligence or a wrongful act or omission (incidents like car accidents and medical negligence, for example)
- the claimant’s losses can be compensated with money damages (this covers most negligence-based cases), and
- the circumstances are such that the negligent party would have been liable as a private party (instead of as a government agency or employee).
However, the Florida statute does impose certain limitations on the kinds of claims that injured parties can bring. For instance:
- Government employees cannot be held personally liable for harm, unless they caused the harm intentionally. Instead, all claims must be filed against the government body or agency that employs them.
- Damages in cases against Florida’s government are limited to $200,000, or $300,000 total if the claim is against multiple state entities. (Learn more about damages in an injury case.)
- Punitive damages or interest that accrued before the judgment was made cannot be awarded in cases against the Florida government.
- The state may appeal any resolution of the case.
- Actions against state universities must be brought in the county where the university’s campus is located, unless the university has a “substantial presence” in the county where the harm occurred.
- Additional limitations apply to cases filed against law enforcement officers or agencies, public health agencies (including public hospitals), and the Florida Space Agency. Claims that come from inmates of the Florida Department of Corrections are also subject to special time limits.
No matter how many people were harmed, how severe the injuries, or how many negligent parties, the government will only pay the cap per incident. The maximum settlement will always be $200K per person and $300K per incident, which, in some cases, won’t be enough to cover the damages. If the incident is a car accident, you can pursue any available uninsured motorist insurance coverage you may have.
Case scenario #1: A county bus hits you and is at fault for this accident. You fracture your leg and need to have metal screws and plates put in your leg. Even though your case is probably worth more than $200K, the most that the responsible agency has to pay you is $200K.
Case scenario #2: You’re walking down a sidewalk and fall in an uncovered utility hole. You fracture your leg and tear a ligament that requires surgery. The government may be held liable for the accident, and the value of your damages could be equal to or more than $200K, but the most that you can get is still $200K.
Filing a Claim Against the Government in Florida
If you are injured by a government agency in Florida, you must put the state agency involved in the claim (and the state’s Department of Financial Services) on notice of the claim, in writing, within three years of the occurrence of the underlying incident.
No lawsuit can be filed until after a 180 day investigation period, unless the claim is formally denied.
A letter describing the date, facts, and losses can be mailed, or you can use one of the optional claim forms available from the Florida Division of Risk Management.
The notice of claim must be provided on paper. An emailed notice will not be considered sufficient, according to the Division of Risk Management.
If the claim is denied, a personal injury suit against the government in Florida must be filed within three years of the date of injury. If the claim is a wrongful death claim, however, it must be filed within two years.
In some cases, agencies are only authorized to offer a certain amount to settle a case before litigation. This amount can be minimal compare the totality of your damages, so in most cases a lawsuit will be required.
Just like claims against the state, claims against local governments in Florida must start with notice, in writing, of what happened sent to the local government department in charge of handling claims. Florida counties and municipalities frequently include this information on their websites. For instance, Miami explains on their website how to file a claim. https://www.miamigov.com/Services/Solve-a-Problem/File-a-Claim-with-the-City-of-Miami
If you are involved in an accident, call Jaime “Mr. 786Abogado” Suarez today!