Sovereign Immunity: What Is It?

Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine highly relevant to accident and injury law, yet many people do not know what it is. In a nutshell, sovereign immunity prevents anyone from suing a government for tort, or accidents and injuries that are the government's fault, unless the government gives permission. As an example of this, imagine that you were injured by a government employee due to his gross negligence. Now, if the employee were employed by anyone other than the government, you would be able to recover from the company. But under true sovereign immunity you would not be able to recover from the government unless the government granted you permission.

History of Sovereign Immunity

Like much of our common law in the United States, sovereign immunity comes from our English legal traditions. At the time when all law came from the king, no one could sue the king unless given permission to do so. The maxim of the time was that the 'king could do no wrong.' In reality it was just another arbitrary rule that protected the king's assets from being distributed under any circumstances. As England developed and grew, the doctrine of sovereign immunity transferred itself to all aspects of government activity in the kingdom.

When the United States was establishing itself as its own country, Alexander Hamilton argued that the principle of sovereign immunity was intact in the new country. He stated in the Federalist Papers that no government is subject to a lawsuit unless it gives consent. Feeling the same way, the Supreme Court recognized the principle and established it for American laws in Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. 264 (1821). It is interesting that the doctrine was established in 1821, because in an earlier decision the Supreme Court declined to adopt sovereign immunity as an American legal doctrine. Eventually the courts would establish the doctrine and apply it to not only the federal government, but to each of the state governments as well.

Florida's Sovereign Immunity Laws

Today, sovereign immunity does not apply as widely as it once did. In fact, all governments have passed laws granting its citizens the right to sue them for accidents and injuries. Like other governments, Florida has passed its own sovereign immunity laws. Florida Statutes 768.28 lays out in great detail the law of sovereign immunity in Florida. Some of the key points are that:

  • There is a cap on how much a person can recover from the state in a personal injury lawsuit. The cap is $200,000 per person in a case, and $300,000 per claim. That sounds like a lot of money, but it could easily be insufficient in a complex injury or wrongful death case;
  • Attorneys are limited in how much they can make on a lawsuit; and
  • There are filing and other requirements in a suit against the state that do not exist in regular personal injury cases.

The laws involved in a personal injury case against the state of Florida are complex. It takes a certain understanding and experience for an attorney to successfully prosecute these cases.

When it comes to any type of accident or injury case in the Panama City area, The Pittman Firm is the right firm to which to turn for help. We have the experience and dedication needed to fight on your behalf. Contact us for a review of your case.

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