Articles Posted in Government Liability

By the virtue of their employment, law enforcement officers and other public safety officials often find themselves in situations that present a danger to themselves or other members of the public. When people are hurt or killed as a result of negligent police activity, it may be challenging to determine if the law enforcement officer or agency bears some civil responsibility for the loss. On one hand, police officers are human and are forced into dangerous situations very often, holding them accountable for any negligent acts would prevent police from properly performing their duties. On the other hand, law enforcement officers are tasked with protecting the public, and if an officer negligently or intentionally acts in a way that results in the death of an innocent person, there must be some consequences. Florida law addresses these considerations by operating within a framework that allows public employees, including police officers, to be sued personally for damages under some circumstances. A recently published news report discusses a jury verdict recently handed down in a wrongful death case filed by the family of a deceased teenager.

According to the news report discussing the recent jury verdict, the trial centered on the death of a 12-year-old boy who had been visiting the fair on the day he died. According to the report, police officers were called to the fair because some youths were causing a disturbance and committing small crimes. Although some of the youths were arrested or detained, the deceased boy was not accused of any criminal activity, however, the officer chose to eject him from the fair nonetheless. Instead of allowing the child to leave the fair through the exit, the officer forced him to go out of a side exit that had no safe pedestrian access and abutted a busy highway. When attempting to cross the highway, the boy was hit by a vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene.

The boy’s family pursued a wrongful death claim against the officer and the department in Florida state court. According to the complaint, the officer was grossly negligent in forcing the young child out of the far and onto a busy highway, where he was ultimately killed. In responding to such claims, municipal law enforcement agencies often claim that qualified immunity protected them from being sued. Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that protects public employees (including law enforcement officers) from legal liability for acts of negligence that occur while the employee is acting within the scope of their employment. Qualified immunity has been used in Florida to protect thousands of public employees from the consequences of their negligence, but the protection is not absolute.

Florida residents who intentionally or recklessly injure another by their conduct may be held criminally accountable by the government for their conduct with the filing of assault or criminal battery charges. In addition to this criminal liability, a person guilty of an assault that caused an injury can be held accountable for financial and other damages in civil court. A former middle school student’s lawsuit against a school security officer who allegedly assaulted him on school property has recently been addressed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, where the defendant’s claim of qualified immunity was ultimately rejected.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff was a 13-year-old boy at the time of the incident. The plaintiff and his mother were checking in with the office at the plaintiff’s school when the security officer was called to address the plaintiff’s behavior. After speaking with the plaintiff for about 2 minutes, the defendant inexplicably grabbed the plaintiff’s face and tackled him to the ground, causing injuries. After the incident, the defendant was fired from his job at the school and ultimately criminally charged with assault for his behavior.

Aside from the criminal proceedings, the plaintiff pursued a civil assault claim against the defendant in federal court. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant acted illegally under his supposed authority as a school security officer, and had no right to detain him with the force applied. Before trial, the defendant successfully argued to the court that he had “qualified immunity” from the charges. The trial court found that the defendant was working within the scope of his authority as a security officer and that the force used was not excessive. The plaintiff appealed the ruling to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Florida Statutes Section 768.28 partially waives a governmental entity’s sovereign immunity protections. However, the waiver only applies in cases stemming from a governmental entity’s operational functions and not discretionary planning-level functions. Recently, an appeals court issued a decision addressing a negligence claim involving the government’s discretionary actions.

A plaintiff filed an amended complaint against a Florida town about injuries their minor child suffered while riding their bicycle. The child was riding a bike on a path along a street when they approached a dumpster blocking the path. The child left the bike path and entered the street to avoid the obstruction. A driver struck the child while he was traveling down the street. In response to the plaintiff’s claim, the county moved to dismiss the case based on sovereign immunity.

On appeal, the court reasoned that the law entitles the defendant to sovereign immunity because the plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the county was negligent in its discretionary planning-level functions. Florida law provides that sovereign immunity protects governmental entities for their discretionary functions. Discretionary functions include quasi-legislative decisions, policy-making, and judgmental governmental functions. On the other hand, sovereign immunity does not apply to operational functions such as decisions that implement policy. As such, plaintiffs wishing to overcome sovereign immunity must allege negligent acts “at an operational level.”

Generally, Florida personal injury lawsuits follow a clear pattern; however, cases involving governmental entities present additional challenges and burdens. Pursuing lawsuits and collecting damages after an accident with a governmental entity or vehicle requires a comprehensive understanding of complex negligence laws. Unlike other states, but for three primary exceptions, Florida permits individuals to pursue negligence actions against governmental entities.

A government employee may be held liable for damages or injuries under certain circumstances in Florida. These situations typically involve cases where the injury stems from a negligent act, omission, or wrongful act of the government employee, there are compensable damages, and the law would hold the responsible party negligent even if they were not a government worker.

Those who have suffered injuries in an accident with a Florida government vehicle should seek legal representation as soon as possible. While the law permits accident lawsuits against Florida police officers, these cases are very fact-specific. For instance, a recent Florida appeals court issued an opinion involving a lawsuit against a police vehicle. In that case, an off-duty police officer rear-ended another vehicle. The vehicle owners filed a complaint against the City of Miami (City) for their damages and losses. However, the City argued that they were entitled to sovereign immunity because the office was off-duty at the time of the incident. The trial court found in favor of the City.

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.

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