In general, tort law recognizes that you are liable for injuries that another person sustains as a result of your negligent actions. So who can be liable for negligence? Individuals, corporations and other business entities, as well as state governments, their subdivisions and agencies can be found liable for negligently-caused injuries. However, with regard to state governments, their liability is limited by virtue of a doctrine known as “sovereign immunity.”
What Is Sovereign Immunity?
Sovereign immunity precludes individuals from suing the state and its agencies in order to recover civil remedies – such as money damages – for injuries stemming from the performance of official government duties. Courts reason that sovereign immunity is essential for an efficient and effective democratic government. Otherwise, the courts would be clogged with civil claims, and the executive and legislative bodies would be deterred from carrying out essential government functions in fear of litigious reprisals.
As with many other aspects of our judicial system, the United States inherited the doctrine of sovereign immunity from the common law courts of England. In England, sovereign immunity barred the monarchy’s subjects from filing civil lawsuits for money against the king and his agents. However, when the English parliament came to power it carved out certain exceptions to sovereign immunity.
Today, the U.S. federal government and the 50 states enjoy sovereign immunity. Like our English predecessors, sovereign immunity waivers have been codified by our federal and state legislatures, authorizing civil suits against the government, its agencies and subdivision in limited situations.
What Are the Damages Caps Under Florida’s Sovereign Immunity Statute?
Florida’s sovereign immunity law can be found in Title XLV, section 768.28 of the Florida Statutes. It waives sovereign immunity for personal injuries caused by the negligent actions of the state committed within the course and scope of carrying out official government acts. However, it also places caps on the amount plaintiffs can recover:
“Neither the state nor its agencies or subdivisions shall be liable to pay a claim or a judgment by any one person which exceeds the sum of $200,000 or any claim or judgment, or portions thereof, which, when totaled with all other claims or judgments paid by the state or its agencies or subdivisions arising out of the same incident or occurrence, exceeds the sum of $300,000.”Fla. Sta. § 786.28(25) (2018).
Furthermore, Florida’s sovereign immunity waiver does not allow plaintiffs to recover punitive damages or collect prejudgment interest.
In civil cases against Florida, its agencies or subdivisions, the jury isn’t aware of the limitations sovereign immunity imposes on money damages. As a result, a jury can return a judgment that far exceeds the sovereign immunity caps. For example, if a jury awards a plaintiff $600,000 for an injury he or she sustained as a result of a Florida state hospital’s negligence, the plaintiff can only recover $200,000.
What Happens if My Damages Are More than the Cap?
Florida’s statute allows plaintiffs to recover judgments in excess of the sovereign immunity cap if the state legislature authorizes in an official act:
“[A] judgment or judgments may be claimed and rendered in excess of [the capped amounts] and may be settled and paid pursuant to this act up to $200,000 or $300,000, as the case may be; and that portion of the judgment that exceeds these amounts may be reported to the Legislature, but may be paid in part or in whole only by further act of the Legislature.” Id.
Going back to our example above, if the plaintiff wants to collect the $400,000 excess amount from the Florida state hospital, they can petition the Florida legislature to authorize payment. The Florida legislatures must then pass an official legislative act to pay the plaintiff the $400,000 balance of the judgment.
Consult Experienced West Palm Beach Personal Injury Litigators
At Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather & Littky-Rubin, our skilled West Palm Beach personal injury attorneys have experience in lawsuits where the defendant claimed protection under sovereign immunity. For example, some hospitals sometimes raise a sovereign immunity defense to limit their liability for certain medical malpractice claims. However, Florida courts have the authority to determine, as a matter of law, whether a defendant is accorded sovereign immunity protection. (Check out our blog’s coverage on Key v. Almase) Our team of skilled litigators will work diligently to achieve the maximum recovery you are entitled to by law.
If you have a personal injury claim against a potential agent of the Florida government, contact us online or call at (561) 922-0258 to schedule a free initial consultation today.