Personal injury victims of malpractice, wrongdoing or negligence by public hospitals, police agencies or other local government bodies could soon be even further limited in how much they could collect.
Our Broward personal injury lawyers know that these entities have long been pressuring the state to reduce their liability in the event of a personal injury or wrongful death claim. As it stands now, sovereign immunity measures cap the amount for any injury, no matter how severe, caused by government to $200,000.
However, if an individual believes he or she is entitled to more, they can pursue a legislative claims bill. In those cases, the compensation could surpass millions of dollars. Now, a Florida House of Representatives committee is exploring potential changes to cap what individuals can receive even in a claims-bill measure.
Legislators haven’t been open to any degree with specifics, but several have indicated they intend to propose changes. Proponents of capping these claims say it’s not so much the validity of the claim that garners a win, but rather who is a better story-teller or who can win the support of the strongest lobbyist. Nothing could be further from the truth. These are among the most egregiously injured people in the state and the current system addresses what would otherwise be gross injustices. The bowing to the lobbyists is being done by the politicians who now propose to limit what amounts to a last chance for the redress of grievances.
But first, let us consider that the government doesn’t make the claims bill process easy. Most people simply opt to take the $200,000 – even when their injuries really should net them more – because it’s simply far less of a hassle. Consider that there have only been 105 claims bills filed in the last three years. Of those, only 19 have been approved by the legislature.
The answer is not to limit compensation to those who have been wronged. It appears the answer instead might be to lift the $200,000 across-the-board cap that exists regardless of circumstances for individual lawsuits. Make the process more equitable and transparent by ensuring access to the same court system procedure to which everyone is entitled.
It doesn’t appear, however, that this will be the goal of the legislature. In fact, a proposal drafted by a coalition of local government entities reportedly seeks to establish a more rigorous process for filing a claims bill, which would ultimately further reduce the chances of success.
Consider what would happen in any other case if the defendant had the power to decide how much he or she was going to pay, or what standards the plaintiff should have to meet before filing?
But that’s what’s happening. The proposed measure would first require all claims bills to be approved by the county delegations, mandating a unanimous vote before moving on to the next phase. If a bill is filed directly in Tallahassee, the proposal would have to go through three separate committees – in BOTH the Senate and the House. Additionally, there is a provision to cap the amount of fees that a plaintiff could pay to his or her lawyer – but not what the government could pay its own lawyers.
To give you an idea of the kinds of claims we are talking about, consider one of the most recent successful claims. A young man in Sunrise was left brain-damaged and bound to a wheelchair after a Broward County Sheriff’s deputy, who was speeding while on his way to work, struck his vehicle. Under the sovereign immunity clause, his claim was capped at a mere $200,000 – despite the fact that a jury determined he should be entitled to $30 million. But he pursued a claims bill, asking either the sheriff’s office or the state to cover the judgment.
Nearly 15 years later, the state finally agreed to pay – a little less than $11 million, which is barely going to cover the cost of his medical expenses.
And yet, the government is saying they need to limit these kinds of payouts.
In what world is this “equitable”?
If you have suffered a personal injury in South Florida, contact Richard Ansara at 954 761-3641 or toll-free at 877-277-3780.
Local governments pushing for clampdown on payouts in claims bill cases, Feb. 7, 2013, By Kathleen Haughney, Sun Sentinel, Tallahassee Bureau
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