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Sovereign Immunity: Suing the Government for Negligence


We all know that we have the right to sue the government. But we take for granted that this has always been the case. In fact, historically, it has not, and because of that, suing a government entity has some hurdles that injury victims should be aware of.

The History of Sovereign Immunity

Historically, dating back to our legal system’s roots in English law, a common person was not allowed to sue the government—in the case of England, the King. The King—the sovereign—had complete immunity. Our legal system has developed since our English days, and part of that development is the acknowledgement that people can sue their own government.

Liability Limits

But our government’s waiver of its sovereign immunity is limited, and only certain kinds of lawsuits can be brought and maintained against the government. One big limitation when suing the government is the cap on the amount of damages that an injury victim can obtain. Pursuant to Florida law, a victim can only recover $200,000 per person, or $300,000 “per incident.”

Per incident means that even if there are multiple victims in one event or incident, they all must share in the $300,000 maximum cap. Recently, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the families of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting all must share in a total of $300,000, as the shooting, according to the Court, constituted one incident. Had the court determined that each shooting was a separate incident, then each family of a victim could have received $200,000.

Operational and Planning Level Negligence

Victims also can only sue the government for operational level negligence. This means that victims cannot sue the government for a decision that it makes. Victims can only sue the government for negligence in the implementation of that decision.

So, for example, you couldn’t sue the government for the decision to build a road a certain way, even if it is dangerous in its design. But if the road were slippery, or too narrow, or had some other defect that caused an accident, you could sue the government. The question is whether the government carried out its plans in a safe way. If not, the government can be liable in court.

Notice and Time Limits

There are strict time limits when suing the government, and even a requirement that the government has to be provided notice of the lawsuit, and the opportunity to investigate it and resolve it before a lawsuit is filed. The notice must be sent within 3 years of the injury. If and when the claim is denied by the government agency, there is then a shorter time limit to file your lawsuit.

Does it Apply?

Often, government agencies will contract with private companies to perform vital government functions. Sometimes, those private companies will be afforded the same sovereign immunity that the government would get. That means that recognizing who is and is not a government agency isn’t always so easy.

Contact the Miami personal injury attorneys at Velasquez & Associates P.A. today for help if you are injured in any kind of accident.



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