The family of a young man who was seriously injured in an accident 13 years ago may finally receive compensation in 2012. The Florida Legislature will once again consider a claims bill in his case, and the insurance industry is once again mounting a campaign opposing the measure. The issue for insurers is the potential bad faith claim that could follow the bill’s passage.
The matter landed in the Legislature because the defendant in the lawsuit is a county sheriffs office. Generally, government entities are exempt from litigation under the doctrine of sovereign immunity — that is, a citizen cannot sue a government body or employee — when the government or its employee is, essentially, governing.
An individual citizen can fight a traffic ticket, for example, but he cannot seek money damages from the state legislature that set the speed limit at 55.
There’s an “unless” here, though.
And it’s a big “unless” in this case. The state can be sued in cases of property damage or personal injury, among other things, if the harm is the result of a negligent or wrongful act (or omission) of a government employee. The employee must be acting “within the scope of employment,” to use the legal term.
So, an off-duty cop is driving through the parking lot at the grocery store. He’s just picked up all the fixings for a big family dinner and is on his way home to fire up the grill. He’s so distracted at the thought of the new Weber that he slams into a cart and injures the guy pushing it.
The guy cannot ask the police department for compensation. The cop was off-duty and not acting anywhere near within the scope of his job.
But, as happened in this case, if an officer is running late for roll call and is driving a sheriffs department vehicle at a speed well in excess of the posted limit to make it on time; and, driving at that high speed, the officer inexplicably enters another lane and slams into a car making a left turn? That driver, or his parents on his behalf, can sue.
There is a “however” at this point, and we’ll get into that in our next post.
Miami Herald, “Legislators again to wrangle over disabled mans claim against Broward Sheriffs Office,” Jim Saunders, Sept. 1, 2011
Florida Legislature, Senate Bill 4 as introducedShare