Making Sense of the Florida Sovereign Immunity Statute, its Limitations on Recovery, and its Notice Requirements.
The State of Florida employs over 100,000 individuals to perform various government tasks. This number grows considerably when you also count the number of local municipal and county employees and state contractors who work throughout the State. By trade, these individuals range from law enforcement officers to electricians, tax collectors, construction workers, engineers, prison guards, mechanics, bus and truck drivers, and on to almost every imaginable profession. Like their civilian counterparts, unfortunately, sometimes government employees make mistakes that can cause injury to everyday citizens.
These types of injuries can include: car accidents where a government employee or contractor is at fault, slips or trips in a government building or work site, the failure or malfunction of equipment used by a construction crew, injury in a correctional facility, and medical malpractice in a university hospital, among many others. If you have been injured as the result of negligence by a government employee, you may have heard of a concept termed Sovereign Immunity and may think it prevents you from recovering for your injury. This is not necessarily true as Florida allows claims to be made and suits to be brought for these types of injuries, within certain specific parameters.
The Sovereign Immunity Statute in Florida, F.S. §768.28, allows suits to be brought against the State including its various agencies, local municipal governments, and private corporations contracting with and acting on the State’s behalf, among other state wings. In these suits, the amount of recovery can sometimes be harshly limited to $200,000 per claimant and $300,000 per occurrence (for multiple claimants), assuming the government employee was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of their negligence.
In addition to limiting the amount of potential recovery, paragraph (6)(a) of the statute in question, creates a notice and waiting period requirement before suit can even be filed against the appropriate agency. This paragraph forbids bringing an action in court against the State before a written claim is made to the appropriate agency (and sometimes the Department of Financial Services), which must contain very specific information, and the agency has a chance to respond to the written claim. The purpose of this notice requirement is to provide the State with certain information and to give the State an opportunity to investigate and presumably resolve meritorious claims before a lawsuit is ever brought. Further, paragraph (6)(d) gives the State a full 6 months to respond to most types of claims and can be thought of as a pre-suit waiting period. Claims alleging wrongful death or medical malpractice require a response from the state within 90 days. Navigating the notice, claim, and waiting periods required by the Statute can be tricky, especially because other statutes come into play depending on the type of claim and government entity involved.
Further, making sure the appropriate written notice and claim is sent to the correct State agency and related departments is an important step that must be made within strict time limits to preserve your rights when contemplating a suit against the State – (this includes its various agencies, local municipal government bodies, and private contractors, too!). The appropriate time limit could be 3 years, 2 years, or even 1 year depending on the type of claim involved and other specifics to your case. This is one reason why it’s vitally important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney with experience litigating claims against the State when contemplating bringing a claim yourself. The attorneys at Michles & Booth have that experience and can provide a free consultation to discuss the specifics of your case today. Don’t delay as the time limit for your claim might be running out.