Articles Posted in Government Liability

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a wrongful death case brought by the parents of a student who died while horseplaying with another student at school. At the time of the accident, the teacher in charge of the classroom had stepped out and asked another teacher in a nearby room to keep an eye on the children. The court was tasked with determining whether the teacher was entitled to official immunity.

ClassroomThe case raises interesting and important issues that often arise in Florida personal injury cases involving government defendants. These include Florida car accidents involving government employees and slip-and-fall accidents that occur on government property.

Official Immunity

Under both the Florida and United States Constitutions, government agencies and officials are entitled to immunity unless immunity is specifically waived by the government. Each state has its own tort claims act in which lawmakers determine which types of cases are exempt from the general grant of immunity.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a case alleging that the state department of transportation was negligent in allowing an orange construction barrel to obstruct a lane of traffic. The case discusses an issue that will be relevant to many Florida accident victims, specifically, when a government entity can be held liable for the dangerous condition of a public roadway.

Construction ConeState and local governments are responsible to build and maintain public roads. While governments can rarely be held liable based on the dangerous design of a road or intersection, government entities can be held liable when they fail to safely maintain public roads. A recent case illustrates the standard courts apply when reviewing these claims.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was towing a trailer on the highway when she entered a construction zone, where orange construction barrels were placed alongside the single lane of travel that remained open. As the plaintiff continued down the highway, one of the barrels was directly in the lane of travel, and she was unable to avoid clipping the barrel with the awning of her trailer. As a result, the plaintiff’s trailer was damaged, and she could not use it for the remainder of the season.

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Late last month, an appellate court in Indiana issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a bicyclist who was injured while riding on a government-owned trail. The case required the court to determine if the state government was entitled to immunity under the state’s recreational use statute. Finding that the state was entitled to immunity, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

Bike Trail

Although this case took place in Indiana, it is relevant to Florida bike injury victims because it illustrates the difficulties that an accident victim may face when bringing a personal injury case against a government entity or employee.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was riding his bike on a mixed-use trail that was owned and operated by the state park department. As the plaintiff was passing a pedestrian, the tire of the plaintiff’s bike got caught in a moderately sized crack in the pavement. This caused the plaintiff to lose control of the bike and fall to the ground. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries to his shoulder as a result of the fall and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the state government.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving several interesting issues that are relevant for Florida accident victims. The case required the court to determine whether a school could be held liable for the injuries sustained by a student while playing floor hockey in gym class. Ultimately, the court concluded that the school was not necessarily immune from liability in all circumstances involving gym class injuries, but given the facts of this case, the school was not negligent.

Field Hockey PlayersThe Facts

The plaintiff was a middle-school student at the defendant school. As a part of the physical education curriculum, all students were required to participate in team sports during gym class. One of the sports the students played was floor hockey.

Pursuant to school regulations, safety equipment was not necessary when playing floor hockey. However, the gym teacher instructed the students to avoid “high-sticking” and went over safety rules prior to beginning the game. However, during the game, the plaintiff was accidentally struck in the eye by another student’s stick. As a result, the plaintiff required eye surgery and several follow-up appointments.

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When someone is injured on the property of another party due to some defect or hazard on the property, they may file a South Florida premises liability lawsuit against the landowner, seeking compensation for their injuries. In general, landowners owe a duty of care to most people who enter their land. The extent to which a landowner must go to provide a safe property depends heavily on the relationship between the parties and the reason why the visitor is on the landowner’s property.

Rope SwingOne question that often comes up in Florida premises liability lawsuits is whether an accident victim can recover compensation when they are hurt on another party’s land while engaging in a recreational activity, such as swimming, hiking, hunting, fishing, or boating. The answer, as with many questions in the law, is “it depends.”

Under Florida’s recreational use statute, Florida Statute 375.251, some landowners who allow others to use their property for recreational purposes are immune from liability. In order to qualify for this immunity, a landowner must show that they allowed the injured person to use their land for a recreational purpose and did not collect a fee for doing so. The burden is on the landowner to establish these elements, and a landowner’s failure to present evidence of each will result in the court declining to find that the landowner is immune from liability. A recent case illustrates how a court might analyze a recreational use defense.

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A large number of Florida premises liability cases are resolved through pre-trial settlement negotiations. Indeed, settling a personal injury case is preferable for many plaintiffs, who do not want to risk taking the case to trial, which may result in a defense verdict or an inadequate award amount. However, settlement agreements should be treated with caution. A recent appellate opinion discusses how one plaintiff’s execution of an overly broad settlement agreement actually dismissed multiple defendants from the case, despite her lack of intention to do so.

SidewalkThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a slip-and-fall accident that occurred outside an auto parts store. According to the court’s recitation of the facts, an employee of the auto parts store had recently mowed the lawn in front of the store and failed to clean up the grass clippings.

As it turns out, there was a recessed area in the pavement where a utility box sat. The grass clippings covered up this recessed area, and as the plaintiff walked past, she stepped in the hole, causing her to fall and sustain serious injuries.

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Florida landowners generally have a duty to make sure that their property is safe to those whom they invite onto their property. If a landowner, including a business or government entity, fails to maintain their property, and someone is injured as a result, the injured party may be able to recover compensation for their injuries through a Florida premises liability lawsuit.

RollerbladesThere is an exception to this general rule, however, and that lies within the Florida recreational use statute, F.S. 375-251. The statute provides immunity from liability to certain landowners who open up their land for the public’s general use. In order to qualify for this immunity, a landowner must not charge a fee for the use of the land. A recent Florida appellate opinion discusses the applicability of a recreational use statute to a rollerblade injury case, finding that the plaintiff was prevented from bringing a lawsuit against the government entity he claimed was responsible for his injuries.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was rollerblading on the street in Delray Beach when he encountered a pothole. Unable to maintain his balance as he hit the pothole, the plaintiff fell to the ground, resulting in serious injuries. The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the City of Delray Beach. The plaintiff admitted that it was against the law to rollerblade in the street but nonetheless argued that the city was negligent in maintaining the roadway and letting a pothole develop.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that was brought by the mother of a child who was struck by an errant golf ball as she was wheeling her son in a stroller on a walking path owned and maintained by the city. The appellate court hearing the case determined that the city was not entitled to government trail immunity because the dangerous hazard that caused the injury was not a condition of the trail itself.

Golf BallThe Facts of the Case

The walking path where the injury occurred directly abuts a private golf course. A few years before the accident, the golf course installed a fence and strategically planted large trees to decrease the likelihood that golf balls would leave the course. However, there was no evidence that the city took any precaution regarding golf balls that were hit out of the boundaries of the golf course.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city as well as the golf course. The plaintiff claimed that the city failed to take any action to remedy the known dangerous condition created by the potential of errant golf balls.

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Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion highlighting the importance of complying with all of the procedural requirements in a South Florida personal injury lawsuit. Ultimately, the court determined that the plaintiff did effectuate proper service on the government defendant and rejected the defendant’s appeal. However, the case should serve as a warning to would-be plaintiffs that even a single misstep may result in the dismissal of an otherwise meritorious case.

Law BooksThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in an accident with a school bus. Believing the accident to be the fault of the school bus driver, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the bus as well as the school district that employed the driver. The plaintiff claimed that the school bus driver was negligent in operating the bus and that the school district was negligent in hiring the driver.

As is required under state law, the plaintiff set out to serve the defendants. The plaintiff hired a process-server, who went to the school district’s main building and inquired where he could deliver the service documents. The front-desk attendant directed the process-server to the HR department. Once at the HR department, the process-server met with the receptionist to the Deputy Superintendent. The receptionist called her superior, who instructed her to accept the service and said that she would come by later to pick it up. The process-server left the documents with the receptionist.

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Last month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a car accident between the plaintiff and an employee with the Department of Transportation. Ultimately, the court determined that the plaintiff’s complaint did not conform to the mandatory procedural requirements of a complaint filed against a government entity. As a result, the plaintiff’s case was dismissed by the court.

Car AccidentThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in an auto accident with an employee of the Georgia Department of Transportation. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries in the accident and filed a personal injury case against the Department under the theory of vicarious liability. Essentially, the doctrine of vicarious liability allows for a plaintiff to hold an employer responsible for the negligent acts of an employee.

Since the case named a government entity as a defendant, the plaintiff’s complaint needed to meet certain additional procedural requirements not present in cases against citizens or businesses. Generally, these additional requirements involve providing the government agency named as a defendant with appropriate notice of the lawsuit. This includes specifying the amount of damages the plaintiff is seeking.

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