If you’ve been injured on public property, you need to be aware that pressing a personal injury claim will be different in certain ways from the process you’d go through for a claim against a private owner. It used to be that governments couldn’t be sued at all, but that “sovereign immunity” doctrine began to unravel in 1946 at the federal level and today citizens can, under defined conditions, hold government accountable for negligence.
There are certain limitations on types of claims that injured parties can bring, and on the dollar amounts of damages awarded. First, government employees are personally immune from claims of harm unless the allegation is that the injury was intentionally caused. An injured party must press his or her claim against a government agency or institution, not against a person. A damage award against the State of Florida is limited to $200,000, or $300,000 if more than one state agency is found liable. Additional limitations on punitive damages may apply, and finally, the state has the right to appeal any resolution of the claim.
The process and rules concerning claims against county and municipal governments generally parallel these, and at all levels of government, the first step is a written notification to the state agency against which the claim is being made. Local governments generally have a single office dedicated to receiving and processing claims. Written notice of a claim has to filed within 3 years of the accident unless it resulted in a fatality, in which case the deadline is 2 years.
Public ownership of property is generally self-evident and includes streets, sidewalks, parking lots, public parks, public libraries, public playgrounds, government buildings, and so forth. Be aware that Florida’s Recreational Use Statute limits the liability of owners who open private land, waterfront, or parks to the public for use without charge. The public users of such facilities often believe them to be public property, but the Recreational Use Statute makes it extremely difficult to establish owners’ liability for injury on these properties. There are exceptions to these protections, which an experienced personal injury attorney will be familiar with and which are not generally difficult to identify and argue.
There are several other restrictions and limitations in Florida law that protect specific agencies from negligence claims.
Government at all levels is powerful. A person injured on public property should not go it alone in making a claim for personal injury against a government institution or agency. A personal injury attorney should be consulted as soon as possible after the injury occurs. If you or a loved one have been injured in South Florida, contact Boca Raton’s Silver & Silver law firm.