We're picking up the thread from our Sept. 28 post, continuing the discussion of a claims bill scheduled for Florida's next legislative session. The claim involves a personal injury suit against a county sheriffs department. The bill has languished for a couple of years, because the focus has shifted from compensating the victim and his family to setting a new precedent for insurance bad faith claims.
The victim was seriously injured in an accident with a sheriff's deputy. A trial court found the deputy 100 percent responsible for the crash; an appellate court affirmed. For the family, all that was left was for the government to write a check. After that, they could take care of the victim, permanently incapacitated as a result of the accident, and go about their lives.
As we discussed, a government entity like the sheriffs office in this case is usually immune from personal injury claims. The law makes an exception, though, when there is a question of a government employee's negligence or willful misconduct being responsible for the injury. If the government employee is liable, the government body must pay the damages.
Florida law limits the amount of damages a government agency can pay to one plaintiff or for one incident -- $100,000 and $200,000, respectively -- unless the agency has insurance to cover a higher award.
The injured party has another option: a claims bill. The party reports the amount in excess of the cap to the Legislature, and the Legislature then approves payment of the excess or a portion of the excess.
The original award in this case was close to $31 million. The claims bill filed in the Senate would award the plaintiff $15.575 million -- well in excess of the cap.
Also, of course, in excess of any insurance coverage the sheriffs department has. That policy has a $3 million limit.
Rather than pay the additional $12 million, the insurance company (actually, the successor to the original insurer) has objected to the claims bills in this matter, saying that passage will open the floodgates of bad faith litigation.
More in our next post.
Source: Miami Herald, "Legislators again to wrangle over disabled mans claim against Broward Sheriffs Office," Jim Saunders, Sept. 1, 2011