When Can You Sue the Government for an Injury?
For better or worse, the government has a large impact on the daily life of everyone who lives in this country. Various agencies control when we can drive, the infrastructure of one’s community, and which businesses are permitted to operate, just a few of the many ways authorities regulate how people live. Given the responsibility the government holds, it is inevitable that something done under these auspices will result in injury to a resident or someone visiting the area. However, holding the government liable for a personal injury is not a straightforward or easy matter. Many rules dictate when the government may be sued, and how much it can be forced to pay in compensation. A woman awarded $109 million for a failed surgery at a hospital run by the University of South Florida, a state entity, that required the amputation of her hands and feet must continue to press for full payment of the jury award, as state law caps the amount the institution is obligated to pay without additional legislative approval. A discussion of when a government-related agency or institution may be sued for negligence, and what must often happen to fully enforce a jury award, will follow below.
When the Government Faces Liability
Historically, and still true to an extent, the government cannot be sued for compensation, despite engaging in harmful conduct. This is referred to as sovereign immunity. However, Florida and other states have partially removed this bar to a lawsuit by passing a statute that permits injured victims to sue for damages if the responsible individual would be personally liable if such an act had occurred in the private sector. The government official must be acting within the scope of his/her employment, and the decision or act that led to the injury must be ministerial and not policymaking. In other words, the government cannot be held liable for decisions like where to build a bus stop, but can be legally responsible if failure to keep up the facilities results in injury. In addition, the waiver of sovereign immunity imposes some administrative requirements before a lawsuit can be initiated. The amount of time a person has to file a legal claim is four years, but within three years of the incident, the victim must send a letter to the agency involved and the Florida Department of Financial Services about the intent to file a claim. Once received, the agency has six months to investigate the claim and inform the victim of its denial or offer of settlement before a lawsuit may be filed. Failure to respond is treated as a denial, and a victim is permitted to proceed once the six-month window expires.
Collecting a Money Judgement
In addition to the limitations on liability, state law puts caps on the amount of damages a victim may recover. The maximum authorized amount is $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident. If a greater amount is awarded by a jury, the state legislature must grant specific approval through the passage of a ‘claims bill.’ This is not easy to obtain, especially if the budget is of concern to lawmakers, and a strong personal injury attorney will be necessary to advocate for this result.
The government is supposed to act in service of its citizens, and if you suffered an injury due to the negligence of a government employee or representative, talk to a personal injury about your potential right to sue. The attorneys at the Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado understand how devastating injuries can be, and will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. Contact us for a free consultation.