Suing the State Can Be an Uphill Battle

If you are injured by an agency of the state or city government, or any public entity, you are entitled to recover damages for your injuries. Governments, just like private companies, can be sued for negligence. However, government entities are often protected by what is known as “sovereign immunity,” a concept that can make suing and recovering, much more difficult for injured Florida victims.

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What is Sovereign Immunity?

Sovereign Immunity has its roots from the days when we were an English colony. It means that you can’t sue the King—in modern days of course, “the King” being the government (sometimes called “the sovereign”). In many countries, citizens can’t sue their governments at all. But in Florida as well as many other states, the state has consented by statute to allow itself to be sued for certain things, and only up to a certain amount.

Sovereign immunity extends to any agent or entity of government. Some are obvious, like the city you live in, or police officers. Some are not, such as a public hospital where you are a victim of malpractice, or a public school.  Sometimes it can even be difficult to determine if immunity even applies, such as where private industry teams with government to engage in a public affair, building project, running a school, or other function.

When is the State Liable?

You cannot sue a state agency for decisions they make in the course of “operating” the state. Governments are generally shielded from being sued just for making bad decisions.  You can only sue if they implement their decisions incorrectly or negligently. So, for example:

– You can’t sue for there not being enough police officers on your street when a crime occurs. But if an officer shows up drunk and injures you, you may have a claim.

– You can’t sue because the state built a lane change that is difficult to navigate. But you could sue if the painted lines were incorrect, or the lighting was poor, or there was some other condition on the road itself making it dangerous.

Damages Can be Limited

Even if you can sue, your damages are limited to $200,000-$300,000, depending on the number of people who are suing. That means that even if a jury awards you $1 million, the state only has to pay $200,000.

For many injuries, that may be sufficient compensation. But for catastrophic injuries, that cap is a huge burden and isolates the state from any serious financial liability for these kinds of cases.

The only way to recover more than those amounts is to file a claims bill. This is an actual bill filed in the Florida legislature, sponsored by a member of the legislature just like any other law or bill would be. It is a burdensome and often futile process—many claims bills, even those for the most seriously injured victims, are denied in the legislature. Some victims even hire lobbyists to get their claims through. Many legislators simply don’t like the idea of paying state money for victims.

No matter how you’re injured, even if it’s at the hands of a state agent, make sure you have attorneys that understand how to win your case against the entities you are suing. Talk to the Miami personal injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your case.

Photo Credit: Micky** via Compfight cc

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