In the state of Florida and everywhere else in the United States, if a person is injured because of another person’s negligence – in a traffic collision, for example – the injury victim has the legal right to file a personal injury claim and to seek compensation for medical treatment and related expenses. In that circumstance, an injury victim in South Florida will probably consult first with an experienced Miami or West Palm Beach personal injury attorney.

But what happens if someone is hit and injured by a city bus or a school bus in Florida, or if someone trips on worn or curled carpeting resulting in an injury at a city hall or a public library? The personal injuries sustained in these kinds of accidents can be serious, long-term, and often permanently disabling, sometimes placing overwhelming stress on your family, your career – if you are still able to work at all – and your ability to meet your simplest personal daily obligations.

In the state of Florida, the injured victims of alleged negligence by the government or by an agency or an employee of the government must pursue personal injury compensation under a somewhat different set of rules, at least at the beginning of the legal process. The old saying is that you can’t fight city hall, but in some cases in Florida, you not only can fight city hall, but you can prevail with a personal injury claim.

WHAT IS SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY?

Florida and the other states have a presumed legal right to “sovereign immunity.” Sovereign immunity is an ancient, traditional legal principle that our own legal system inherited from British common law. Under sovereign immunity, private individuals could not pursue a legal action against the monarch, even if those individuals were directly, personally injured by the king’s or queen’s actions or decisions. Sovereign immunity remains part of the law in the United States, but in the interests of fairness and justice, states selectively waive this right and permit some claims by citizens for injuries caused by a state or local government.

1

The law in Florida governs personal injury claims filed against the state, its agencies, or its employees. Under the law, the state of Florida waives its right to sovereign immunity and allows for particular types of personal injury claims against state and local governments and government agencies. In Florida, a person who is injured by the government or by a government agency or employee may pursue a personal injury claim against the government if:

  • The personal injury was the direct result of negligence or a wrongful act.
  • The victim’s losses can be compensated financially.
  • The negligent party would have been liable under Florida law as a private party.

However, Florida law does impose specific restrictions on the claims that injury victims may pursue against the government. For example, government employees may not be held personally liable for an injury or injuries unless that government employee caused the harm intentionally. Instead, claims must be filed directly against the government body or agency itself, not the employee. Additionally, damages for claims against Florida government bodies and agencies are capped at $200,000, or at $300,000 if the claim is against multiple government bodies or agencies. Punitive damages are not awarded for claims against the state of Florida, and the state has the right to appeal judgments against it.

2

A personal injury claim made against a state university in Florida must be filed in the county where the university’s campus is set unless the school has a “substantial presence” in the county where the injury allegedly occurred. A Florida personal injury attorney can explain the other legal restrictions that are applicable to personal injury claims filed against law enforcement agencies, public hospitals and health agencies, the Florida Space Agency, and claims filed by inmates currently in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections.

HOW IS A CLAIM FILED AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT IN FLORIDA?

If you are personally injured by the state government in Florida or by a state agency or employee, and if you intend to seek compensation from the state for your medical treatment and your other injury-related expenses, you first must notify in writing the state agency named in your claim within three years of the injury, and you also must notify in writing the Florida Department of Financial Services.

In South Florida, a Miami or West Palm Beach personal injury attorney should be consulted for help with writing the notifications and making sure they arrive in the right mailbox. In fact, you will need an attorney’s advice and services at each stage of the process. The notice of claim must be on paper – emailed notices are not deemed sufficient. A personal injury lawsuit may be filed after a 180-day period (for the state to conduct its own investigation), unless the claim is rejected.

WHAT IF THE STATE REJECTS YOUR PERSONAL INJURY CLAIM?

If a personal injury claim is rejected as a result of the state’s initial investigation, a personal injury lawsuit against the state government in Florida must be filed within three years of the injury. The statute of limitations is only two years, however, for wrongful death claims. Inmates in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections have one year to provide the written notice of their claim and three years from the date of injury to file the personal injury lawsuit.

3

If you are injured by a city or county government agency or employee in the state of Florida, the procedure for seeking compensation is almost identical, except that the written notice of a claim should be sent to the office of the municipal or county government department in charge of handling such claims. Your personal injury lawyer will know the pertinent details in your own part of the state.

In any personal injury case, the final amount of accident compensation is determined primarily by the severity of the injuries, and that severity is measured primarily by the amount of the medical bills, the type of injuries, and the projected amount of time needed for recovery. Some accidents result in catastrophic injuries that require a victim to obtain lifelong treatment and care. Those victims will need the maximum possible compensation and the guidance of experienced and knowledgeable Florida personal injury attorneys.