COVID-19 FAQs

Articles Posted in Government Liability

A Florida appellate court recently issued an opinion addressing whether a plaintiff could hold a university teaching hospital liable for medical malpractice. The main issue turned on whether sovereign immunity protects the university teaching hospital involved in the case.

In 2004, the university and healthcare system agreed to an affiliation contract that provided that the woman’s treating doctor was a university faculty member and employee. The agreement included an agreement between the doctor and the healthcare system, where the doctor would treat the system’s indigent patients. In 2011, the Florida lawmakers amended 768.28, Florida Statutes, thereby replacing the 2004 affiliation agreement. The amendment covered all patients’ care and provided that all university employees and faculty were acting as an agent of the healthcare system.

The record indicates that the woman received treatment for an illness with several doctors employed by a teaching hospital where the university provides healthcare services. She alleged that her doctors’ failure to prescribed appropriate medication resulted in her disabilities. The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against several parties, including the healthcare system, the university, and her treating physician. In response to the medical malpractice lawsuit, the university contended that they were entitled to immunity under Florida’s sovereign immunity statutes.

The Florida Supreme Court recently addressed the state’s statutory damages cap in cases against a governmental entity or actor. The state supreme court was tasked with answering whether the governmental immunity law caps damages at $200,00 for all injuries or deaths as claims “arising out of the same incident or occurrence.” The question stems from a negligence lawsuit that a father brought against Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF).

In this case, a man shot his estranged wife and five of her children, resulting in the death of the woman and four of the children. The children’s father filed a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against DCF. He argued that the agency received several domestic disturbance calls at the residence. Further, he alleged that the agency failed to investigate the circumstances of the calls appropriately. He contends that the agency’s inadequate investigation and ultimate finding that the children were not at significant risk of harm were negligent and a breach of their nondelegable duty to protect the children. In response, the agency raised several defenses and argued that Florida statute 768.28(5) provides a limitation on the plaintiff’s available recovery.

Florida law provides a waiver to the archaic “sovereign immunity” doctrine, which provided complete protection against lawsuits against the government. The waiver allows individual parties to file tort actions against the state to recover money damages for the victim’s injury, loss of property, or death caused by the negligence or wrongful act or omission of a state actor. However, the law provides a limitation to a plaintiff’s available recovery against the state agency or actor. The state cannot be liable for a claim by one person, which exceeds $200,000 for the same incident or occurrence.

Florida biking accidents are a common cause of serious injuries in the state. In fact, the cyclist death rate in Florida is over 50% higher than in surrounding states. Miami leads the list of the Florida cities with the highest fatality rates. Bikers, motorists, and pedestrians must take special precautions while operating their vehicles or walking in roadways. Individuals who have been involved in a Florida bike accident should contact an experienced injury attorney to discuss their rights and potential remedies.

Late last month, an appellate court issued an opinion in a plaintiff’s appeal of summary judgment in favor of a county in a Florida negligence lawsuit. The biker filed a lawsuit after he suffered injuries when he lost control of his bike and fell into a drainage ditch. In his lawsuit, he alleged that the county had actual or constructive notice of the ditch. The country argued that it was not liable for the biker’s injuries because the plaintiff did not establish the element of causation.

According to the court’s opinion, the biker could not remember the exact moments right before falling into the ditch. However, the biker recalls that he was heading west when he approached the intersection and noticed a car stopped on the northbound lane. The plaintiff attempted to proceed south, but he did not know what the car was going to do, so he tried to go around the corner and stay on the shoulder. However, he was then struck by a vehicle and blacked out for several hours.

Sovereign immunity protects federal, state, and local governments from lawsuits, and can bar many Florida car accident cases from court. However, federal, state, and local governments can still be sued in many circumstances. This includes tort claims against the state of Florida or local governments for any act for which a private person would be held liable under the circumstances. The government cannot be held liable under Florida law unless there is a common law or statutory duty of care that existed that would hold individuals liable under similar circumstances. If a duty is owed to the plaintiff, a court must then determine whether sovereign immunity bars the claim.

In Florida, governmental immunity comes from the doctrine of separation of powers. The Florida Supreme Court has held that the separation of powers provision in the Florida Constitution requires that certain policy-making, planning, or judgmental governmental functions or “discretionary” functions normally do not benefit from sovereign immunity. Meanwhile, sovereign immunity generally is afforded to decisions made for “operational” functions. The court has said that planning level functions are normally those that require basic policy and planning decisions, while operational level functions are those that are required to implement policy or planning. In addition, courts have said that certain discretionary governmental functions are immune from tort liability because certain functions should not be subjected to scrutiny. Whether an act involved a decision of discretion and public policy rather than one of operation and implementation is not always clear. A recent decision from one state’s supreme court dealt with the issue of immunity in a car accident case involving a county garbage truck.

According to the court’s opinion, a man drove his employer’s vehicle into the back of a county garbage truck that was stopped on the side of the highway picking up garbage. There was dense fog and the man said that he could not see the road, and did not see the truck in time to stop. The man filed a complaint against the county for negligence.

Slip and fall accidents can occur virtually anywhere and often have a lifelong impact on the victim. Florida premises liability lawsuits can be challenging, but accidents that occur on public property are inherently more complex. Some common examples of defective or dangerous conditions on public property are slippery surfaces, uneven sidewalks, insufficient lighting, hazardous pedestrian areas, and unsafe stairways. These conditions can exist around public libraries, government buildings, courthouses, and city playgrounds. When an individual suffers injuries of this nature, they should retain a dedicated Florida injury attorney to understand their rights and remedies.

Generally, under Florida tort law, a person or entity can be liable for injuries that result because of their negligence. However, when the negligent party is a government agency or employee, the victim may not have any recourse due to government immunity laws. Government immunity prohibits individuals from suing a state or its employees for civil damages. However, there are some notable exceptions to this doctrine.

Florida’s sovereign immunity statute allows for lawsuits against government entities in specific situations. However, even in these situations, Florida victims must abide by the statute’s strict rules to prevent dismissal. Typically, Florida courts will only hear negligence cases filed within the four-year statute of limitations. However, the statute of limitations in government negligence lawsuits is three-years. Moreover, before a victim files a lawsuit, they must notify the Florida Department of Financial Services. A lawsuit is appropriate only after the state denies the claim or fails to reply. Further, generally, a plaintiff’s damages cannot exceed $200,000 per incident.

As a general rule, Florida landowners must take steps to make sure that their property is safe for the visitors whom they allow onto their land. For the most part, this includes publicly- and privately-owned land. However, under the Florida recreational use statute, there is an exception that allows for landowners to evade responsibility in certain situations.

Under Florida’s recreational use statute, anyone who allows the public to use their property for recreational purposes, without charging a fee, cannot be held liable for injuries occurring on their property. The statute applies to a variety of activities, including hunting, fishing, camping, wildlife viewing, swimming, boating, picnicking, and water skiing. A recent state appellate decision raises a commonly encountered issue in cases that implicate the recreational use statute.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff and her boyfriend were camping at a state park. Evidently, once the two parked, there were two ways to access the campground from the parking lot; a stone staircase and an ADA-approved wheelchair ramp. The plaintiff and her boyfriend used the stairs on the way down without incident.

In July, 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida car accident case discussing whether the defendant, the City of Coral Gables, was immune from liability based on governmental immunity. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s evidence gave rise to a material fact that needed to be resolved by a jury. Thus, the court reversed the lower court’s decision granting summary judgment to the City.

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff was driving north on Ponce de Leon Boulevard, approaching the intersection with Navarre Avenue. As the plaintiff, who was riding a motorcycle, approached the intersection, he noticed another driver slowly approaching the intersection in the opposite direction.

The other driver initiated a left turn without yielding the right of way, leaving the plaintiff with no time to react. The plaintiff crashed his motorcycle into the right front fender of the other vehicle. The plaintiff was seriously injured as a result of the crash. The other driver stated that he could not see the plaintiff as he approached the intersection due to several palm trees that were in the center median.

One of the most common concerns among Florida personal injury victims is when they must file their claim. Typically, all personal injury claims must be brought within a certain amount of time, which is outlined in the statute of limitations. However, the rules differ when cases name state or federal government entities. Recently, a federal appellate issued a written opinion discussing whether a claim brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act is tolled while the plaintiff is a minor.

The Accident

According to the court’s opinion, when the plaintiff was five years old, his father was killed in a car accident on an interstate highway. The plaintiff’s mother filed a timely administrative claim with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) claiming that a highway barrier that had failed during the accident was not adequately tested or approved for use. Five years after the accident, and while the plaintiff was still a minor, the plaintiff’s mother filed a personal injury case against the FHWA in federal district court on behalf of the plaintiff.

The Federal Tort Claims Act

Generally, the federal and state governments are immune from tort liability. However, under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), specific lawsuits can be brought against the U.S. government and its subdivisions. To bring such a lawsuit, plaintiffs must comply with strict procedural requirements. Among these requirements is a two-year statute of limitations.

Continue Reading ›

While Florida landowners generally owe a duty to keep their property safe and to warn visitors of any dangerous conditions on their land, Florida lawmakers have created an exception in the state’s recreational use statute. The Florida recreational use statute was passed “to encourage persons to make available to the public land, water areas and park areas for outdoor recreational purposes by limiting their liability.”

Thus, under Florida statutes section 375.251, a landowner who allows the public to use their property for recreational purposes “owes no duty of care to keep that park area or land safe for entry or use by others, or to give warning to persons entering or going on that park area or land of any hazardous conditions, structures, or activities thereon.” However, the recreational use statute only applies if the landowner derives no commercial benefit from the use of their property.

There are limits to the protection that the recreational use statute provides to landowners, however. For example, the statute does not protect against the “deliberate, willful or malicious injury to persons or property.” A recent federal appellate case illustrates the type of scenario where the recreational use statute may not apply.

Continue Reading ›

Florida is unique in that parts of the state enjoy over 170 days of sunshine each year. As a result, swimming pools are common across the state. However, swimming pools present serious dangers to children, and those who own or operate swimming pools must take precautions to guard against accident drownings.

Florida swimming pool deaths can occur either at a public or private pool. In either event, pool owners have a responsibly to install specific safety measures and, in some cases, to provide adequate supervision. A recent opinion issued by a state appellate court discusses a tragic death that occurred at a government-run swimming pool.

The Facts

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff’s daughter was on a field trip to a water park that was run by the local parks and recreation department. Prior to allowing her daughter to go on the trip, the plaintiff contacted the playground coordinator at the park, explaining that her daughter does not know how to swim. The coordinator assured the plaintiff that her daughter would be assessed before she would be allowed into the deeper areas of the pool. However, the young girl tragically drowned while department staff members were changing in the locker room.

Continue Reading ›

Contact Information