Articles Posted in Government Liability

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.

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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.

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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.

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Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case rejecting the defendant’s claim that the plaintiff’s case should be dismissed based on the plaintiff’s failure to preserve relevant evidence. The case is important for Florida personal injury plaintiffs because it illustrates both the importance of preserving evidence that is in the plaintiff’s control, as well as taking expedient action to ensure potential defendants also preserve necessary evidence.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s wife was killed in a car accident. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s wife was driving on a highway when her car hydroplaned after encountering a puddle of water. Evidently, the storm drain that should have drained the water from the road was clogged with debris. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city responsible for maintaining the road.

After the accident, the plaintiff’s car was taken to a scrap yard. The owner of the scrap yard sent a letter to the plaintiff’s mother’s home, demanding payment of a daily storage fee. The plaintiff later retained counsel, who contacted the scrap yard and asked the vehicle be preserved. The plaintiff’s counsel also requested that all future communication be directed to him, rather than to the plaintiff.

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In a recent personal injury case, a state appellate court issued a written opinion discussing whether a police department could be held liable under the state’s tort claims act for injuries caused while the officer was responding to an emergency call. The case presents an important issue for Florida car accident victims who have been injured due to the negligence of a police officer or other government employee.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident when a police officer made a left-hand turn against a red light while responding to an emergency call. There was some evidence suggesting that the police car’s emergency lights were activated at the time the vehicle entered the intersection but that siren was not engaged. A subsequent investigation revealed that the plaintiff was not speeding at the time of the accident, and given the nature of the intersection the plaintiff would not have been able to see the officer’s vehicle approaching.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city that employed the officer, claiming that the officer was negligent and that the city was vicariously responsible for the officer’s negligent actions. The city responded that the officer was exercising discretion in responding to the emergency call, and that the discretionary acts of a government employee are entitled to immunity.

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Recently, an appellate court in another state released an opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a police officer, plus the city entity that employed him, could be liable for injuries arising out of a car accident allegedly caused by the officer. In the end, the court determined that because the officer’s actions did not rise to the level of “reckless disregard,” the defendants were entitled to immunity.

The case presents an interesting issue for those who have been injured in a Florida car accident that was caused by a police officer or other government employer. For starters, Florida law does not provide government immunity as it is applied in this case. However, the Florida Tort Claims Act (FTCA) provides for a relatively low total recovery amount unless the plaintiff can establish the actions of the government employee exhibited a “willful disregard for human rights or safety.”

The Facts

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the defendant law enforcement officer received an emergency call and was en route to the scene when he was involved in an accident with the plaintiff. Both the plaintiff and the officer provided very different versions of what occurred, with the plaintiff claiming that the officer inexplicably struck her rear bumper. The plaintiff brought a personal injury claim against the police officer and the city entity that employed the officer.

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During the formation of our country, the founding fathers did not provide a mechanism for citizens to hold the federal, state, and local governments liable for injuries caused by government actors, unless the government being named as a defendant agreed to be named in the lawsuit. In fact, governments were then, and still are to some extent, presumed to be immune from tort liability. However, since then, state and federal lawmakers have passed a series of laws known as tort claims acts, which statutorily waive government immunity in certain circumstances.

Generally, a tort claims act requires that certain procedures be followed in order for the government to waive its immunity. The State of Florida is no different. Under the Florida Tort Claims Act (FTCA), if a Florida accident victim fails to comply with the requirements of the FTCA, the accident victim’s case will be dismissed. Thus, it is very important that an accident victim ensure that they follow all the requirements of the FTCA.

A recent case illustrates the strict manner in which courts apply the requirements of a tort claims act.

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