In 1975, Florida enacted Florida Statute section 768.28, which provides a partial waiver of Florida’s sovereign immunity. Since then, Florida citizens have been able to recover damages from the state, subject to a few very important exceptions and limitations. What many people do not realize, however, is that certain hospitals are considered government entities, and therefore receive the benefit of this immunity. Teaching hospitals, for example, such as Shands benefit from sovereign immunity. County-owned hospitals that are public institutions, such as Jackson Hospital, benefit from sovereign immunity. Sometimes hospitals have been specifically organized and designated as “special taxing districts”.
What’s worse is that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers who are employees of these sovereignly immune hospitals are also immune by statute. Ordinarily, in a medical malpractice case, there may be multiple avenues of recovery because the hospital, doctor, professional group, etc. all may have separate insurance policies to cover malpractice claims. If the doctor is relying on their employment by a sovereign entity, however, they are not required to carry their own malpractice insurance.
Florida, along with its subdivisions and agencies, may be sued for some negligent or wrongful acts or omissions, but generally may not be sued for bad policy decisions. For example, the state is typically immune from suit for the decision not to place a stoplight at a busy intersection but is liable for its negligent failure to maintain a stoplight at a busy intersection. Police officers are often immune from liability, as demonstrated by court cases protecting the state from liability in cases ranging from ordinance enforcement decisions to prisoner transfer to firefighting. This immunity isn’t absolute, however, and state agencies have been found liable for such actions as failing to detect child abuse or for failing to correctly follow police procedures in a traffic stop.
If you have been damaged because of the negligent decisions or actions of a state agency, your ability to recover will depend in large part upon the type of action or decision that is at the core of your injuries.
Your attorney will have to advise you as to whether you should sue the state or its employee or both. Florida Statutes section 768.28(9)(a) provides that officers, employees, and agents of the state may only be sued personally if they “acted in bad faith or with malicious purpose or in a manner exhibiting wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety, or property.” If that happens, or if the employee acts “outside the course and scope of her or his employment,” then the state is not liable for damages resulting from that employee’s actions.
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Even when a state agency or employee is held liable for negligence, the damages that an injured person may recover are limited to a total of $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident. If your damages exceed those amounts, you can only be paid for the excess amount after the case is referred to the legislature for further action, or if the agency has insurance with a higher coverage limit and decides to use it to settle your case. Keep in mind that even if the agency has insurance with a higher coverage limit, its use of that higher coverage is discretionary: The state does not waive its liability limits by obtaining insurance with greater coverage amounts.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident involving sovereign immunity law, you may be entitled to receive compensation for your pain and suffering. The Palm Beach Gardens, Juno Beach and Jupiter personal injury attorneys of The Ledezma Law Firm handle litigation across the State of Florida. Learn more about victims’ rights and to discuss the possibility of filing a sovereign immunity lawsuit by contacting the accident lawyers at the Ledezma Law Firm today at (561) 454-9727.