The Florida Supreme Court recently
heard arguments on a case that will have constitutional implications. The case in question regards
whether the Florida Legislature can limit how much (in some cases) an
attorney can collect from a personal injury case against the Florida state
In a typical personal injury case against the Florida state government
or one of its agencies, how much a plaintiff or his attorney can collect
is capped. This is due to a legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity
that dates back to our English common law traditions. Under this doctrine
a state government cannot be sued unless it grants permission to be sued.
When a state grants permission it will heavily regulate how a lawsuit
will proceed and what can happen in any given lawsuit.
Florida’s Sovereign immunity statute can be found in
Florida Statutes 768.28. Under the provisions of that statute, the amount of damages a personal
injury plaintiff can collect from the government is $200,000. And the
maximum amount an attorney can collect from that is 25 percent of any
Why this Case is in Court
Despite the language of the Florida sovereign immunity statute, a tragic
case from several years ago caused the lawyers for one victim to take
their case to Florida’s Supreme Court. The reason this case ever
made it this far is because the victim in this case suffered a terrible
brain injury in 1997 due to the negligence of employees at a hospital
owned by the state of Florida. The victim and his family hired an attorney
to take on their case, and sue the hospital for the damages that resulted
from the hospital’s negligence.
As part of their agreement to represent the boy, the attorneys in this
case signed a contract that they would be paid a certain amount based
on what they were able to recover. The case went to trial, and the jury
returned a verdict for $28.3 million. Because of the cap on how much a
victim can recover from the state, the award was limited to just $200,000.
This case continued because of an interesting exception Florida’s
sovereign immunity cap rule. If a victim wins a victory in court for more
than the capped amount, then that person can appeal to the Florida legislature
and ask them to pass a special bill appropriating money that more nearly
matches the actual verdict that was handed down. And that is exactly what
this victim and his legal team did in this case, but when the legislature
passed the bill after years of work, they also said that the attorneys
were not entitled to more than $100,000 and stipulated that none of the
funds be used for attorney’s fees.
Lower Court Strikes Down Petition
The attorneys in this case appealed this decision by filing a lawsuit.
They lost their appeal in the 4th District Court of Appeals for Florida
but the case now sits with the Florida Supreme Court. At least one judge
had a warning should the case not be overturned and the attorneys allowed
to collect the amount they agreed upon.
The lone dissenting judge in the opinion warned that allowing the legislature to cap fees like this
could hamper future cases on behalf of victims.
The Pittman Firm, we are accident and injury attorneys that seek a just and fair result
for all parties involved in a case. When someone is negligent and causes
damages to someone else, they should be made to pay. Of course that would
not happen if attorneys did not do the legwork and take the fight to the
wrongdoers. That is what we do. If you have been injured in an accident,
See related blog posts:
Florida Supreme Court Upholds $4.5 Million Verdict in Premises Liability Case;
Florida Legislature Introduces Bill on Safety.