There are situations where accidents can occur due to government negligence. For example, you could fall while on government property and suffer a serious injury. You could be injured in a car accident that was caused by negligent highway design or maintenance. You could be injured due to the negligent actions of a government employee. Whatever your situation may be, these cases pose unique challenges for the people who are injured. If you have been harmed as a result of government negligence, a personal injury lawyer can help you navigate the claim process. 

Understanding Sovereign Immunity

Negligence cases against the government are difficult because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The doctrine was inherited by the United States from England prior to the establishment of parliament. The basic concept is that the king, or sovereign, should not be able to be sued by his subjects. In other words, the sovereign should be immune to civil liability. Over time, this doctrine has evolved to apply to different types of government entities, including federal, state, and municipal government entities. This may seem unfair, but the idea is that insulating the government from legal liability would keep it from becoming bogged down in litigation and allow it to remain functional and efficient. That said, exceptions (typically referred to as waivers of sovereign immunity) have developed that allow injured citizens to pursue claims that arise due to government negligence. 

The Florida Sovereign Immunity Statute

Each state has its own sovereign immunity statute that will detail under what circumstances the state government can be sued. Florida’s sovereign immunity statute expressly allows injured citizens to sue the State of Florida in tort actions, which includes personal injury claims. There are three important caveats, however: 

  1. There is a damages cap of $200,000 against one agency or $300,000 if there were multiple agencies responsible for your accident. 
  2. State employees cannot be held personally liable unless they acted in bad faith, with malicious purpose, or with wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety, or property.  
  3. The State cannot be ordered to pay punitive damages and you cannot seek pre-judgment interest. 

The first exception is important to understand. If you were seriously injured in a car accident caused by a state employee, you would be limited to only $200,000 in damages. This cap would apply even if your claim exceeded that amount or the jury awarded you more than $200,000 in damages. 

It is also worth emphasizing that Florida's waiver of sovereign immunity only applies to tort claims. You cannot sue the state for bad policy decisions. For example, you cannot sue the state if you are injured in a car accident at an intersection where the state chose not to place a stop light. 

Lastly, note that the state sovereign immunity statute also applies to counties and municipalities. As a result, you can pursue a personal injury claim against a county or city agency under the state sovereign immunity statute, subject to the same limitations. 

There Is a Different Process for Pursuing Accident Claims Against the Government

In the typical personal injury case, you would normally make a demand for payment upon the at-fault party and their insurance company. However, you can file a lawsuit at any point in the process, and in fact, there is no requirement to make a prior demand for payment. 

If you have been injured by a Florida state, county, or municipal employee or agency, however, you cannot just file a lawsuit. In fact, you must follow the process laid out in the sovereign immunity statute: 

  • You must first present the claim against the appropriate agency and the Department of Financial Services within 3 years of the accident and the claim has been denied in writing. You do not need to present the claim to the Department of Financial Services if your claim involves a municipal or county employee or agency. 
  • You must present your claim within 2 years after the accident in a wrongful death claim. 
  • Your claim must include your name, social security number, and date and place of birth. You must also disclose whether you have any unpaid judgments or other claims owed to the state in excess of $200. 

Again, you cannot file a lawsuit until (1) you make a demand upon the appropriate agency, and possibly the Department of Financial Services, and (2) they deny your claim in writing. Identifying the correct agency can be confusing. If you have been injured in an accident and you believe the government is at fault, the best thing to do is contact an experienced personal injury attorney. 

Personal Injury Claims Against the Federal Government 

Personal injury claims against the federal government are governed by the Federal Tort Claims Act. The process is somewhat similar to the process laid out under the Florida sovereign immunity statute: 

  • You must first make a demand upon the appropriate agency, which includes filing Standard Form 95. 
  • You must file your claim within two years of your accident. 
  • The government must approve or deny your claim within 6 months of receipt. If they deny your claim in writing, you may then file a lawsuit. 
  • There is no cap on damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act, but any limitations on damages would be governed by the law of the state where the accident occurred. 

There are various other details and administrative requirements that must be met. If you believe you have a claim against the federal government, a personal injury lawyer can ensure that your claim is handled appropriately and filed correctly. 

Contact Powell, Powell & Powell to Speak with a Personal Injury Lawyer Today 

Pursuing a personal injury claim against the government is not easy. To get the compensation you deserve, you need someone on your side who knows how to navigate the process. As accident lawyers who have been holding negligent parties accountable since 1951, we know what it takes to get results. Contact us today at 850-682-2757 to schedule a free consultation.