Usually when the Florida Supreme Court adopts new procedural rules, they are of most concern to attorneys, and don’t have as much impact on injured individuals. The rules are procedural, and usually dictate how the lawyer must practice.
But the Florida Supreme Court has adopted a change to Florida’s appellate rules that’s worth noting because it could have an immediate and direct impact on injured victims who want to sue negligent government entities.
A Bit About Sovereign Immunity
The change concerns sovereign immunity. Generally, sovereign immunity is a law that says that the state and its agencies (including cities) can only be sued up to a certain dollar amount. Even if a jury ultimately awards far more than that amount, the injured victim will only receive the statutory cap—between $200K and $300K, depending on how many injured plaintiffs there are.
Sovereign immunity also prevents an injured party from suing at all for certain kinds of negligent acts.
Sometimes it’s not so clear whether a negligent party is covered by sovereign immunity. In many cases, a motion is brought in the trial court by a defendant being sued to determine whether the defendant is protected by sovereign immunity or not.
A Bit About Appeals
During a lawsuit, a judge may make many decisions on motions that are brought by parties. But those decisions can’t be appealed in the middle of the case. Generally a party cannot appeal a judge’s ruling until the case is over—meaning, it has been disposed of by a judgment or it has been dismissed by the court.
In the context of sovereign immunity, this means that if a defendant claims he is not covered by the immunity, and a judge disagrees and says that he is, the defendant must stand trial through judgment before appealing the decision of the trial judge about the sovereign immunity.
The New Rule
But a change to an appellate rule recently passed now modifies that. The change allows a defendant to appeal a judge’s ruling on sovereign immunity immediately—right in the middle of the case.
The practical result for injured victims, is that on top of the often intolerably long time it takes to normally litigate a case, get discovery, and get the case to trial, injured victims may now have to wait even longer, as defendants appeal judges’ rulings on sovereign immunity in the middle of the case.
Defendants really can’t lose by bringing a motion asking for immunity. If they win, they’re covered by immunity. But even if they lose the motion, they can file an appeal right there, and put an 8 month-year delay on the proceedings.
Some may do this, simply for leverage. Knowing a victim may be desperate and financially vulnerable, many defendants may use the appellate process to coerce favorable settlements. The prospect of having to wait even longer for a trial (or even a settlement) will be a difficult prospect for many injured victims, and the defendants may know that.
Contact an Attorney for Help in Your Case
If you’re injured, you want attorneys who understand the trial and the appellate process, and how they work together. Talk to the Miami personal injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your injury case.