Filing a lawsuit against another individual can be common practice. But, filing a lawsuit against a local, state, or federal government can be an entirely different ballgame. With the doctrine of sovereign immunity, there are policies in place to protect the government from being liable for your injuries due to their negligence. Not only are the amounts you can be awarded capped, but what is considered negligence on their part is layered in gray areas. However, this may be on the way to positive change as a bill was recently introduced to the senate to increase the capped amounts under sovereign immunity.
WHAT IS SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY?
Sovereign immunity is a legal term that means the government can do no wrong. It protects the government from being sued by you for its negligence. It is meant to protect the local, state, and federal governments and their agencies, like public schools. It attempts to exempt these areas from being liable for any personal injury that you may endure because of them.
Now, you can file all the lawsuits you want. Sovereign immunity does not mean you cannot file claims as you see fit. It just means there is a small and very specific chance that the lawsuit will go anywhere. If they do advance, there are caps on the amount of compensation you receive.
WHERE DID SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY COME FROM?
Many people view this as an outdated term because it originates from early English law. It was a policy put in place to protect the King from being held responsible for anything that went wrong. The idea is that since the King is the head of the courts so, in turn, he should be exempt from any accusations of wrongdoing. In other words, the King could do no wrong. This idea was transferred to the states, but many see it as an outdated or irrelevant policy because we do not have a King or sovereign ruler.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT LIMITS ON DAMAGES IN FLORIDA?
If you do try to file a lawsuit against the government or any of its agencies, you will find it is not the easiest task. Hundreds of claims are filed against the state of Florida every year, but only a few actually get far enough to receive any type of compensation. As of right now, there are specific caps on the amount of damages you can claim. Currently, the limits are set at $200,000 per person or $300,000 per occurrence. However, you can sue for more than the set limit and, if you win, the government or agency responsible will have to pay any excess amount in whatever additional insurance they keep. Also, in order to sue for more than the designated cap, you would have to get special permission from Florida legislature and the governor would have to sign an approved claims bill. This process can take decades to complete.
The good news is that a new bill has been introduced to the senate as a conversation starter. Senate Bill 1302 proposes that the caps be increased to $500,000. The ideal outcome is that the states will one day do away with sovereign immunity completely. But, until then, the proposed increase on the caps on damages is a step in the right direction.
HOW HAS SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY AFFECTED FLORIDA?
Florida has not had a consistent history of enforcing sovereign immunity. For example, in the event of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida waived sovereign immunity to allow the families of the 17 victims to file lawsuits against the state. However, with the cap on damages, the most that can be awarded for this situation would be $300,000 as a single occurrence involving multiple people. The state views the school district as only being liable for a total of $300,000 in damages, regardless of how many individual victims were injured or lost their lives that day. The amount would be divided among the families of the victims. Even then, it has been known to take decades for these types of cases to be settled and for the money to be paid.
Unfortunately, this is not the first incident of its type for Florida. In 1997, a student was shot and killed at a West Palm Beach middle school, and it took 21 years for his family to receive a total settlement of $360,000. Later in 2001, a Florida State University student died during football practice, and it took 13 years for his parents to receive a $2 million dollar settlement.
DOES MY LAWSUIT STAND A CHANCE AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT?
Yes, but you are going to need an aggressive personal injury lawyer on your side. If you or a loved one have been injured due to the negligence of a government or one of its agencies, you are due compensation for your suffering. At the moment, you may be eligible for up to $200,000 or $300,000 split with other victims, and those amounts may be changing very soon. You need a skilled lawyer who is well-versed in the law and who tracks its changes on a regular basis. Contact us at Keller, Melchiorre, and Walsh today to get started on your road to compensation. We are tracking the changes in the law and we stay ready to fight for you, no matter the size of the court.