Suing the State of Florida is not the same as making a claim against a person or a private corporation. Traditionally, governments have prevented people from suing them, under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Read on to learn more about when you might be able to sue the government in Florida.
What is sovereign immunity?
Sovereign immunity is a concept that developed hundreds of years ago in England. Essentially, sovereign immunity kept people from making claims against the king, his representatives, or the government. While this concept transferred over to the U.S., many states in America allow people to sue them for injuries, under certain circumstances.
When can I sue the government in Florida for an injury?
Per Florida Statute § 768.28, the state of Florida expressly waives sovereign immunity from liability for torts.
However, you must meet certain terms. You can sue or make a claim against the government in Florida if:
- A negligent or wrongful act or omission of any state employee caused injury or loss of property, personal injury, or death;
- The employee was acting within the scope of employment; and
- The state employee would be liable for the injuries if he was a private person.
Consider this example: a Broward County Transit vehicle rear-ends as you sit at a red light. You can file a car accident claim against the county because:
- The driver was operating the vehicle negligently.
- The driver was acting within the scope of his employment.
- You could hold him liable if he were driving a private vehicle.
Where do I file my claim?
If the claim is for an injury, you can file where the “cause of action accrued,” if the entity has an office in that area. For example, if you suffer injury in a Tri-Rail accident, you might file a claim in Miami-Dade, Broward, or Palm Beach.
What government entities can I sue in Florida?
The following state agencies or subdivisions in Florida are open to liability for torts:
- Executive departments
- The legislature
- The judicial branch (including public defenders)
- State University boards of trustees
- Corporations that act primarily for the state, counties, or municipalities, or their agents
- Companies the state or municipality owns and/or operates (e.g., Tri-Rail, Metrorail)
Are there limits on suing the government in Florida for an injury?
Yes, the statute does impose restrictions and limitations on claims against the government in Florida. These include:
- You cannot sue the government in Florida for punitive damages.
- The government is not liable for interest for the period before judgment.
- The government does not have to pay a claim that exceeds $200,000 for one person or a total of $300,000 for all claims that arise out of one incidence or occurrence.
- If the plaintiff and the government entity reach a settlement that exceeds those amounts, the entity will only pay the maximum amount ($200,000/$300,000), unless the state legislature authorizes payment that exceeds those limitations.
- Even if the government or government agency has insurance that exceeds those limitations, the limitations still apply.
How do I file a claim against the government for an injury in Florida?
There are different rules you must follow when filing a claim against the government, even when the government has waived sovereign immunity. The Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Risk Management handles the initial claims against the government.
To file a claim against the government in Florida, you must:
- Give notice to the state agency involved in the claim and to the Department of Financial Services. This notice must be in writing.
- File within three years of the occurrence.
- Obtain service of process on both the agency and the Department of Financial Services. (Florida does not require you to use a particular form when you submit your claim in writing.)
- Wait at least 180 days for an investigation period by the government. If the government denies the claim before the 180 days has expired, you can move forward in the process.
In addition to the state agency involved in the claim, you should mail your tort claim to:
Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Risk Management
200 E. Gaines St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0338
You can also fax your tort claim to 850-413-2730.
What is the investigation process?
When the Department of Financial Services, Division of Risk Management receives a claim, an administrator will review it. The administrator opens the matter as an active claim and assigns it to a claims adjuster.
The claims adjuster conducts the investigation. The claims adjuster will either deny your claim, settle it, or decide the state will not settle. If the claims adjuster determines the state is liable, the adjuster will decide upon an amount of damages and make a settlement offer.
If the claims adjuster is not able to reach a settlement and the claimant files suit, the Division of Risk Management will send the claim to a defense attorney for the state. The claims adjuster will stay on the case, monitoring and supervising the litigation until final resolution.
Where can I get help filing a claim against the State of Florida?
Filing a claim against the government is complicated and difficult. If you have a claim against the government in Florida, we can help. Call the Montero Law Center today at 954-767-6500 for your free, no-obligation consultation.