Articles Posted in Government Liability

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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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida car accident case discussing the Slavin doctrine, and how it can protect a contractor from liability that was allegedly caused by their work. The case arose in the context of a motorcycle accident that the plaintiff argues was the result of shrubbery that obstructed the view of motorists as they approached the intersection.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a surviving family member of a motorcyclist who was killed when he entered an intersection and was hit by another vehicle. The plaintiff believed that the accident was the result of shrubbery that obscured the vision of motorists as they approached the intersection. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against several entities, including the company that planned the landscaping project, the general contractor, and the landscaping company (‘the contractors”).

Recently, a federal appellate court issued an opinion stemming from a lawsuit filed by the husband of a Navy lieutenant who died following complications from childbirth. The husband filed a lawsuit alleging that his wife’s death was caused by the negligence of the medical staff at a naval hospital. Ultimately, the court reluctantly affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit, based on the oft-criticized Feres doctrine.

The Facts of the Case

In 2013, a Navy lieutenant resigned from her position after she and her husband learned that they were expecting a child. Sadly, even though the woman’s pregnancy was normal, she died from severe hemorrhaging about four hours after her daughter’s delivery.

The Procedural Posture

Following the woman’s tragic death, her husband filed a lawsuit alleging that the hospital was negligent in their treatment of his wife and that their negligence resulted in her wrongful death. The district court dismissed the lawsuit based on the Feres doctrine.

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As a general rule, landowners have a duty to make sure that their property is safe for those whom they invite onto their land. If someone is injured due to a landowner’s negligence, the injured party can pursue a Florida premises liability lawsuit against the landowner.However, Florida lawmakers have established certain exceptions to this general rule. One such exception is contained in Florida Statutes section 375.251, also known as Florida’s recreational-use statute. The recreational-use statute grants immunity to certain landowners who open up their land for the free recreational use of the public. Specifically, the statute explains that qualifying landowners do not make any assurances that the land is safe, do not incur a duty of care to those who use the land, and will not be liable to anyone for injuries caused by their own negligence while on the land.

That being said, even a qualifying landowner is not immune from liability for deliberate, willful, or malicious actions that result in injuries.

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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.The 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.State 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.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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