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Lawsuits Against Public Defendants in Florida

December 30, 2016 - Personal Injury

If you have been injured by a public employee or due to the acts and omissions of a public entity, you may have a somewhat difficult road ahead of you in recovering for your injuries.  Personal injury lawsuits against Florida public defendants are necessarily limited – and complicated – by the protections afforded to such defendants.

Claim Filing Differences

As with all injury events – whether the defendant is a private or public entity – you should seek the counsel of a Florida personal injury attorney as soon as possible after your injury.

Your attorney will assess your various claims, help you gather and organize record evidence, and file the lawsuit (if necessary).  If you wait too long to file your lawsuit, then the statute of limitations deadline may pass and you may lose your ability to pursue litigation to recover on your injury claims.

If your defendant is a public defendant, however, it is even more critical that you seek the counsel of an attorney sooner.  After an accident, it can take time – and further investigation – to reveal the actual, potentially liable defendants.  What may initially appear to be a case involving only private defendants, may ultimately reveal a public entity defendant.

Confused?

Suppose that you are injured in a car accident.  The accident occurred at a sharp turn where visibility was low.  The defendant was speeding around the turn and caused the accident, resulting in your injuries.

On initial impression, determining who to sue might seem rather straightforward, and might seem to only involve a private defendant.  If the defendant turns out to be a public employee (acting in the course and scope of their employment), this could complicate your case. 

Further, perhaps the turn itself was negligently designed, or perhaps the public agency in charge of the turn failed to properly warn drivers of the hazards.  There are several paths through which new (public) defendants can be introduced to a seemingly straightforward case.

In Florida, any claim against a public defendant must be filed with the relevant state agency.  The agency has 6 months to investigate the claim.  After the 6-month investigation period is over, you may file a formal lawsuit against the public defendant.  Alternatively, the agency may deny the claim before the 6-month investigation period is finished.  If the claim is denied prematurely, you are free to file a lawsuit at or after such time.

Importantly, for any claim filed against a public entity, the particular public entities being sued (i.e., a city, the police department, or a public agency) must be put on written notice of the lawsuit within three years of the date of the accident. 

The notice must be served by certified mail.  If the three-year written notice is not served upon the relevant public entities, then you cannot file a lawsuit (even if your lawsuit is filed within the standard four-year statute of limitations period).  To an extent, the three-year written notice requirement acts as a second, shorter statute of limitations period.

Public Defendant Protections

Florida public defendants enjoy several layers of protections.

Public defendants in Florida are completely immune from liability unless the lawsuit meets certain criteria.

  1. The injury must be the result of negligence or some other wrongful act.
  2. The injury must be such that it can be compensated through financial means.
  3. The accident must be such that, were it caused by a private person or entity, they would have also been liable.

Pursuant to section 768.28 of the Florida Statutes, personal injury plaintiffs are subject to various other limitations with regard to their claims against public defendants.

  1. A public employee cannot be personally liable for your injuries, unless the employee intentionally caused your injuries. Your claims will have to be filed against the public entity employer.
  2. Florida implements a $200,000 damage limitation for claims brought against a public defendant. This is a severe limitation, as many personal injury claims assert damages many multiples of this cap.  There are also not punitive damages allowed against public defendants.
  3. There are additional, specific liability shields afforded to law enforcement officers, public hospitals, and others in the employ of the government (or a public agency).

Injury claims against public defendants can be incredibly difficult to litigate, and success requires the efforts of a personal injury attorney who is experienced in bringing such claims.  If you or someone you love has been injured as the result of someone else’s wrongful acts or omissions, seek the counsel of a skilled South Florida personal injury lawyer at the Law Offices of David I. Fuchs.

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