A Florida Motorcycle Accident Lawyer’s View on Sovereign Immunity

The State of Florida enforces complex legal protocols that must be complied with to sue a governmental agency that is potentially at fault for causing an accident resulting in a personal injury. The area of the law that pertains in these matters is called sovereign immunity, which basically means protecting the crown or king–in this case, the State of Florida. As a lawyer who has represented injured clients and investigated thousands of car accidents and slip-and-fall claims across Florida for more than 25 years, I believe the sovereign immunity notice law serves as a minefield designed to trap and trick unwary personal injury lawyers and the people they are trying to help.

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For example, consider the case of a motorcycle accident in the City of Coral Springs, Broward County, Florida. Officer John Malvin is a City of Coral Springs motorcycle officer, who while at work, was hit by a school bus owned and operated by a governmental agency, the School Board of Broward County. Note that this accident occurred in August 2011, and the case was finally resolved in 2016.   

To further complicate the issues surrounding this incident, Officer Malvin was deemed to be operating in the course and scope of his employment as a police officer at the time, so the City of Coral Springs paid him worker’s compensation benefits.  He then assigned his claims to the City, meaning that now they could and would try to recover the money paid the officer from the School Board. Once reimbursement was satisfied, any remaining money would go to Officer Malvin.  

To recap, one Florida city employee (Malvin) is paid by the city (Coral Springs) for an accident caused by a county employee (Broward bus driver); the employee gives the city the right to sue the county to get the money back, and anything left over goes to the employee. Confused? Keep reading:

In May 2014, almost three years after the accident, the City sued the School Board and sent a letter to the Florida Department of Financial Services, advising that they were suing on behalf of Officer Malvin. The School Board, of course, sought to dismiss the entire case, claiming that the City had failed to comply with the aforementioned sovereign immunity notice requirements.  I guess the law can trip up city attorneys, too. The requirements for waiver of sovereign immunity in tort actions are found in section 768.28, Florida Statutes (2011).  The School Board filed the dreaded motion for final summary judgment, challenging the sufficiency of the City’s notice, a pleading designed to kick the case out of court before it could be presented to a jury.

The trial court denied the School Board’s motion and opined that the notice requirements are intended to provide the State and its agencies with time to investigate and respond, but that their form and content are not specified in the statute. The trial court did not err in concluding that the City provided sufficient information to the School Board and the Florida Department of Financial Services to put them on notice of the accident, its time, place, the injuries suffered, and that a claim was being made.

The City dodged a bullet, since I have personally seen cases dismissed for the tiniest discrepancy in the notice. I cannot help thinking that since the plaintiff in this case was a city, rather than an individual, greater leeway and deference were accorded. I hope I am wrong and that this case signals a shift from the hyper-technical use of sovereign notice to shield governmental agencies from being held accountable when they and their employees cause serious personal injuries in the form of car, truck, bus, motorcycle, and pedestrian accidents in the State of Florida.

If you have been injured in Florida by a vehicle driven or owned by a city, county, or state official, it is important that you consult immediately with an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer. Since 1991, our personal injury offices in Miami have been handling cases across the State of Florida on behalf of those injured through the carelessness and negligence of others.  

Call us today toll-free at 1-866-597-4529, or reach us by SKYPE, FACETIME, or email at [email protected] for a free initial and confidential consultation regarding your potential case and your legal rights to obtain money for your pain and suffering, medical expenses, time lost from work, aggravation, and inconvenience.  We are ready to help.