We’ve probably all seen cops speeding before. Sometimes they are in hot pursuit of a suspect, and other times they are just in a rush. Occasionally a police officer will turn their lights on just to get through an intersection and avoid waiting at a red light. But what happens when a police officer, in the line of duty, causes a motor vehicle accident that kills or injures an innocent bystander? When this occurs, there are several difficulties that can arise in bringing an action against a police officer, local city, town, county or other municipality.
When a government entity or a city is the defendant in a civil suit for injuries, different rules apply. The government benefits from what is referred to as “sovereign tort immunity”. This can bar suits even when the City, State, and other government agencies and their employees are negligent and cause injuries to an individual. In other works, it’s a judicial doctrine that prevents the government or its subdivisions, departments, and agencies from being sued without their consent. It stems from the ancient English principle that “the monarch can do no wrong”.
But if you are the victim of negligence at the hands of a government agency or their employees, there are courses of action available to you.
In 1975, Florida legislature enacted Florida Statute 768.28 entitled “Waiver of Sovereign Immunity in Tort Actions; Recovery Limits on Attorney Fees; Statute of Limitations”. This statute partially opened the door to negligence lawsuits against governmental agencies. Most importantly, it established clearer guidelines under which such lawsuits must commence.
According to 768.28, the government may be held liable for the negligence of its agents or employees (if acting within the course & scope of employment) under circumstances where a private individual would be liable for property damage, personal injury or wrongful death.
First and most importantly is when to file suit. With these cases, there is a standard four year Statute of Limitations, which means you have four years from the date of incident to file suit. Keep in mind that specific notice requirements are imposed before the lawsuit is filed. For example, in all such cases the claimant must, within 3 years of the incident, file a written claim with the involved agency as well as the Florida Department of Financial Services.
After receiving this claim, the agency has 6 months (90 days in medical malpractice claims) to evaluate the claim and either deny or offer to settle before suit is filed. If the agency fails to respond within the statutory deadlines, it is deemed a denial.
This particular provision was included to encourage pre-suit settlements. Realistically, however, few cases get settled this way. The statute limits attorney’s fees to 25% of recovery and “caps” damages that can be recovered to $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident.
A judgment higher than those limits can be awarded, but there will be no recovery over the statutory limits unless Florida Legislature authorizes payment via what is known as a “claims bill”. This is a very rare occurrence give the recent focus on reducing state and local budgets. If you believe you have a potential claim against a governmental agency, we strongly advice that you seek competent legal representation immediately. These strict pre-suit requirements of 768.28 can bar an otherwise valid claim if not followed to the letter.
The experienced trial attorneys at Dolman Law Group have handled numerous cases where a municipality is the defendant. If you have been injured as a result of an auto accident or any other negligence, it is in your best interest to seek representation immediately. The entity has 6 months from the date they receive notice under FS 768.28, before a suit may be brought against them. Therefore, the sooner you retain counsel, the sooner the settlement process may begin. Call Dolman Law Group at 727-451-6900 if you have further questions or would like a free case evaluation.