Articles Posted in Sovereign Immunity

Published on:

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. Continue reading →

Published on:

policeWe’ve all heard stories of police using excessive force on suspected criminals. Unfortunately, these cases are not as rare as you might think. Since a variety of measures police officers take are discretionary, police officers routinely overestimate threats and use too much force as a result. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that of all individuals who had force used or threatened against them by police in 2008, an estimated 74% felt those actions were excessive. Males were more likely than females to have force used or threatened against them, and blacks were more likely than whites or Hispanics to experience use or the threat of force. However, not all claims against a city police officer can be pursued. Many are barred under the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

In Bussey-Morice v. Kennedy, the plaintiff died during an encounter with the police in the city of Rockledge. The police officers on the scene used their tasers on the plaintiff between three and six times during the encounter. Later, the cause of death was deemed to be “cocaine excited delirium,” but the medical examiner also noted the decedent had conditions such as pulmonary emphysema and lung adhesions.

The plaintiff’s personal representative filed a lawsuit against the city and each police officer involved in the incident, alleging claims for excessive force, battery, and wrongful death due to negligent training. The district court partially granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, noting that the theory of sovereign immunity applied. Continue reading →