Posted By Alan Sackrin on March 23, 2017
In Florida, slip and falls happen every day whether its due to heavy rain, lack of maintenance, or even substances left on the floor. We all know that businesses such as Publix and Walmart can be held liable for a victims damages, but what if the property is owned by the city?
Does Premises Liability Change if the Government Owns the Property?
If the property owner is a city and/or a recognized municipality in the State of Florida, then different laws apply when determining if it will be held legally responsible for a slip and fall claim.
Private vs. Public Owners in a Slip and Fall Case
If you slip and fall on property owned by a private entity, like a shopping center, grocery store, hotel, or unincorporated urban area, then you can seek recovery from the property owner under Florida’s premises liability law. If you win your case, then the amount of damages you can recover from the business owner is, generally speaking, not limited by law.
In contrast, if you slip and fall on property owned by a Florida municipality and suffer identical injuries to the private entity scenario above, then you will not be able to recover the same amount of damages. In fact, unless you follow specific procedures and meet certain deadlines exactly, you may not be able to file a lawsuit against the city at all.
Determining Which City Owns The Premises
The site of your slip and fall accident may happen in an incorporated city, or in a municipality, or in an “urbanized area” as defined by the federal government.
It is critical that you determine exactly what city or governing body owns and oversees the site of your accident and injury. Under Florida Statute 180.01, a “municipality” is defined as “any city, town, or village duly incorporated under the laws of the state.”
You need to know if you fell on a site owned by a legally recognized municipality. You cannot depend upon how things look – rural land can be owned by a city, and a strip center or urbanized area can be found in an unincorporated part of the state.
For instance, the City of Miami Department of Real Estate Asset Management reports that the City of Miami covers approximately 35 square miles with a property inventory “…consisting of approximately 631 parcels inclusive of parks, fire stations, City administrative buildings, public facilities, vacant lots and housing sites.” Additionally, there are places like the University of Miami that may be included as city property for the purposes of a slip and fall claim.
Slip and Falls on City-Owned Property in Florida
So, what can you do if you are hurt in a slip and fall on city property? Here are some things you need to know:
Accident victims can be hurt on government property while visiting a ball park, having a picnic, crossing a street, or walking the dog along a city sidewalk. Injuries can happen due to acts of negligence such as:
- Cracks in sidewalks
- Grates or covers in the footpath
- Changes in elevations of walkways or sidewalks
- Potholes in streets
- Puddles of water
- Slippery surfaces caused by oil or sand
- Foreign objects (including trash) in the foot path
- Curbs without adequate warning (paint, markers, signs).
For more on slip and fall accidents, see:
Sovereign Immunity Protects Florida Cities
Cities are not run at a profit; they are financed by tax dollars. Public policy deems cities to be worthy of special legal protection from accident injury claims for damages.
Accordingly, the protections in the law include (1) to protect taxpayers and the public treasury from being held liable for huge injury claims and (2) to insure that the community does not suffer from needed financing because of funds being diverted to pay injury damage awards.
Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity
This is done through the doctrine of “sovereign immunity.” Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, you cannot sue the government for civil damages. It is legally protected from being held liable for your claim. To learn more about this doctrine, read Article X, Section 13 of Florida Constitution.
However, sovereign immunity isn’t without its limitations. It’s not always fair to block the government from being held financially responsible for an accident that its agents or employees caused to happen.
So, the Florida Legislature has passed a law that provides an exception to this general rule of sovereign immunity.
Florida Statute 768.28
Under this limited waiver of sovereign immunity (stated in Florida Statute 768.28.), cities in Florida can be held responsible for injury or loss of property, personal injury, or death caused by the negligent act or omission of any city employee done within the scope of his or her employment.
Additionally, corporations primarily acting as instrumentalities or agencies of the municipality can be sued for damages, too. This includes places like the University of Miami, as one example. See, Jaar v. University of Miami, 474 So. 2d 239 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1985).
However, before you can proceed with a slip and fall accident claim against a Florida city under this statutory exception to sovereign immunity, you need to know the protocols that must be followed in these cases. (see next section)
Before a lawsuit can be filed for damages sustained in a slip and fall accident on city property, the accident victim must provide notice to the municipality that he or she intends to file the lawsuit.
Be aware that it must be written on paper. Email notices will not be legally valid. Additionally, it must be sent to the appropriate city office.
If you were injured on a university sidewalk or at a city park, then you need to research and make sure that you are providing notice to the right department or city subdivision. Failure to send your written notice to the right place can end up getting your entire damage claim dismissed.
What does your written pre-suit notice have to state?
While many city websites (like Miami, see below) provide forms, Jeff Atwater, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer explains “… a narrative letter describing the facts and nature of your claims is usually sufficient.”
The notice should include details about what happened in the incident, with details like:
- The address and exact location of the slip and fall
- What direction you were walking
- What problem (crack in sidewalk, etc.) caused you to slip and fall
- Witnesses to the event
- Photos or other documentation of the event
- Medical documentation and support of your injuries
- Documentation supporting your damages.
You have a deadline for filing this pre-suit notice, too. Notice of your accident claim must be made within three (3) years of the event.
Additionally, you cannot file your injury lawsuit for six months (180 days) after the notice is given. However, there is an exception. If the city denies your claim before that deadline, then you are free to file your injury lawsuit.
City of Miami Site Form Examples
For slip and fall accident victims hurt on property owned or operated by the City of Miami, see:
Also of interest, the City Attorney for the City of Miami publishes reports on the status of claims made against the city online. Check out the accident claims, including wrongful death, filed against the City of Miami and their status in the May 2016 City of Miami Litigation Report.
Limits on Recovery from the City
If you do file a claim against the city, then you have to be prepared for the municipality to reduce your damage claim no matter how valid it may be. Why? There are legal caps on the amount of money that a slip and fall accident victim can recover from a city or municipality in Florida.
Under Florida Statute 768.28(5), cities in Florida cannot be held liable for punitive damages or interest covering the time period before the judgment. Additionally, actual damages are capped at $200,000.
Meaning, it does not matter how serious your injuries are and the ongoing medical care and treatment you may need. The sovereign immunity doctrine will apply here and you will not be able to recover any amount of damages over this statutory cap.
Attorneys’ Fees Limitation
The Florida Legislature has determined it best to limit and control the percentage that the plaintiff’s bar can charge clients in sovereign immunity cases.
In Florida, personal injury attorneys usually work on injury cases under a “contingent fee” basis. Meaning, they charge a percentage of any recovery obtained in the case.
However, under Florida Statute 768.28(8), the accident victim’s lawyer is capped on what he can charge his client. Attorneys can earn a maximum fee of twenty-five percent (25%) of the recovery.
This is a much lower percentage that the attorneys’ fees customarily charged in slip and fall cases involving private defendants. As a result, many Florida personal injury lawyers will decline to take these cases against a Florida city or municipality. They will argue it isn’t profitable enough for them to handle.
What Should You Do?
If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident on property owned by a city or municipality here in Florida, then that governmental body may be liable to you for premises liability damages resulting from your accident.
There are special circumstances to consider in your case because the government will be asked to cover your damage claims and that is only allowed by law in certain situations.
An experienced Florida slip and fall lawyer can be very helpful in pursuing your claims for damages and in seeking justice for your harm. However, not every Florida personal injury lawyer will represent slip and fall victims seeking justice from a city or municipality.
A good piece of advice if you you or a loved one have suffered a slip and fall on city owned property, is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the common disputes that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions.
You May Also Be Interested In: Frequently Asked Questions on Slip and Fall Claims (The Basics).
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.
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