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Exception to Sovereign Immunity in Florida

street1Taking legal action against the government or its employees is very different than filing a lawsuit against a private person or company. Florida law shields the government and its employees under the principle of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity has its roots in English law and refers to the legal doctrine that prevents the government from being sued without its consent. Thus, the government is immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution by its own citizens. Government establishments that fall into this category include schools, police departments, transportation departments, and more.

In Bergmann v. Florida Department of Transportation, Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff motorist had the right to pursue her lawsuit against the Florida Department of Transportation. This ruling reversed the lower court’s decision, which held that the plaintiff’s claim was not permitted under the principle of sovereign immunity. On appeal, the court determined that the basis of the claim was due to an operation level failure, which was not barred by sovereign immunity.

According to the plaintiff, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) created a known dangerous condition that caused an accident and the plaintiff’s resulting injuries. The complaint alleged that government employees were aware of the potential danger but failed to remedy the problem or warn motorists of the issue. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s case, stating the claims were barred by sovereign immunity.

On appeal, the 1st District Court did not agree. Instead, the appeals court held that the failure to warn amounted to an operation level issue, to which sovereign immunity was inapplicable. Under Florida law, sovereign immunity applies in most personal injury claims against the state government and its entities. It is important to remember, however, that sovereign immunity does not apply in all cases. The Florida Supreme Court has maintained that the government needs to be able to govern. In other words, every government function cannot be subject to court scrutiny. The government has to be able to implement basic policies without fear of liability.

The court examined Department of Transportation v. Neilson, in which the state supreme court noted that building a street with a sharp turn could not form the basis of government liability, but failing to warn drivers that the turn could not safely be navigated at more than 25 miles per hour could be considered a negligent omission at the operational level and thus could be grounds for accountability.

If you or someone close to you has been injured due to a government entity, we can help analyze your case. These types of cases are very complicated, which is why it is important to seek the help of a qualified Miami car accident lawyer. Robert Dixon has helped countless South Florida clients resolve their personal injury claims. We will assess the facts of your case and come up with a plan to get you the compensation you deserve for your injuries. To learn more, do not hesitate to reach out to us. You can contact us online or call us today at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) for a free, confidential consultation.

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