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.