Governmental Torts

When governmental negligence causes personal injury or wrongful death, the law is more complicated than with cases against private citizens or corporations. Sovereign immunity, or government immunity, has its roots in medieval England. The King could not be sued under the assumption that the King could do no wrong. Thus, for centuries the sovereign, or government, was immune from personal injury or wrongful death claims.

America has mostly adopted English law, so for sometime governments in the U.S. could not be sued, either. In 1948, however, Congress enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act. The act created some exceptions to the federal government´s immunity from personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. States began to follow by enacting their own laws allowing governments to “waive” or give up its sovereign immunity in some instances. Today, most states have waived sovereign immunity in varying degrees.

The Florida Legislature waived sovereign immunity in personal injury and wrongful death claims in 1969. This partial waiver of sovereign immunity in Florida is authorized by Florida Statute 768.28. The law provides that all governmental entities in Florida have waived sovereign immunity up to $200,000 per claimant, and $300,000 if there is more than one claimant. Any amount above the $200,000/$300,000 cap must be approved by the Florida Legislature through a claims bill, which is ¬ a special law that can be pursued by a claimant who has a judgment or settlement in excess of the caps. It literally requires the passage of a law, complete with lobbyists, bill sponsors, committee votes, majority votes in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and approval by the Governor.

Lance Block has been handling lawsuits and claims bills against governmental entities in Florida for nearly three decades. He has successfully tried, settled, and lobbied more than seventy cases against state and local governments, including claims against the State of Florida, counties, cities, law enforcement agencies, school boards, and special taxing districts. He obtained one of the largest jury verdicts ever in Florida against the Broward Sheriff’s Office ($30.6 million), settled the largest case against the State of Florida without a trial ($10 million), and lobbied the largest claims bills ever against the State of Florida ($18.2 million).