Lawsuits Against the Government Don’t Play By the Same Rules
Not all laws apply equally to all defendants in civil litigation.
For example, personal injury lawsuits brought against the government (e.g., a city, municipality, or state office or agency) do not proceed by the same rules as lawsuits brought against private defendants.
Known as “sovereign immunity,” this legal principal prevents lawsuits from being brought against the government (i.e., the state, municipality, county, school board, or other governmental agency, and their employees), without the government’s permission.
Not surprisingly, the government gives its permission to be sued in very limited circumstances.
And not without making the plaintiff leap through plenty of hoops first.
Until the mid-1970s, in fact, sovereign immunity prevented most injured plaintiffs from suing the government at all to be compensated for their damages— even if the government (or agency etc.) was negligent.
In 1975, however, the enactment of The Florida Tort Claim Act opened up the possibility of suing the government a bit more. The statute provides a partial waiver of sovereign immunity which now allows injured plaintiffs to sue the government in certain limited circumstances—if specific procedures are strictly complied with.
Injured plaintiffs can now sue the government for limited torts that include intentional wrongdoing or negligence (for example, a slip and fall case). But there are a number of specific procedures which we will discuss below, that must be followed before a lawsuit can go forward.
Also, with some limited circumstances, the damages that a plaintiff can recover against the government are limited and plaintiffs cannot recover punitive damages or collect pre-judgment interest against a government defendant.
The partial waiver of sovereign immunity does not leave the government open to all kinds of claims. Rather, the types of claims that can be brought are limited. For example, you cannot sue the government for making bad decisions, and it can be very difficult to sue a government employee. Police officers, for example, are often—not always, but often— immune from liability.
Government employees generally cannot be held liable in Florida unless they acted beyond the scope of their employment and acted in bad faith, with malevolent intent, or infringed on human rights.
A very typical sovereign immunity case involves premises liability. When a person slips and falls on government property (for example, a sidewalk) and is injured, he will want to sue to recover for his injuries. However, it is the sovereign immunity laws that dictate recovery and the amount a person can recover for his or her injuries. Each state has its own laws governing sovereign immunity and premises liability, so be sure to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. Some states provide full immunity in these cases. In other states, the plaintiff may be able to recover for his injuries, but the standard of care applied to the government agency or entity may be lower than that applied to private property owners.
Consulting with a personal injury lawyer if you are contemplating bringing a lawsuit against the government or a government employee is necessary because it is not always easy to know whether you can or cannot sue a particular governmental defendant.
Pre-Suit Notice Requirements
And, as noted above, in Florida, there are certain pre-suit notice requirements that must be satisfied before a lawsuit against the government can proceed.
A Florida lawsuit against the government must comply with all pre-suit notice requirements.
To be valid, a pre-suit notice must:
- Be in writing and be served on the agency that is the subject of the claim,
- Written notice must also be served on the Department of Financial Services, and
- The claim must be presented within the 3-year statute of limitations.
Fail to comply with any of these mandatory pre-notice requirements, and your lawsuit will not proceed against the agency. In fact, it will be dismissed with prejudice —meaning you will not be able to re-file that proceeding against the government. Ever.
In Florida, the notice requirement triggers a 180-day investigation. You cannot file your lawsuit until after you have properly provided pre-suit notice to the agency (with copies to the Department of Financial Services) and the 180 days has passed.
If you are injured on government property or as the result of negligence by a governmental agency or employee, it is imperative that you consult with a Florida personal injury attorney so that government immunity does not keep you from pursuing your rights.
Personal Injury Attorneys Here to Help You.
Our team of personal injury attorneys are dedicated to helping those who are injured through the negligence of another. If you have been injured in a workplace accident or have questions, contact us or call the firm at 777-JOHN. Our main office is in Orange Park, but we serve clients throughout Florida. We have consulting offices in Palatka, Middleburg, Keystone, Starke, Gainesville, and Ocala.