When Should I Consider a Florida Claim Bill?
The Florida Legislature has provided a system whereby injured parties – from drivers struck by reckless police cars to wrongfully convicted prisoners – can sue the government in a circumstance where a private person would be liable , piercing the protections of sovereign immunity. But the process isn’t easy, and full compensation may be elusive. At the outset,, the sovereign immunity protections provide a damage cap to such liabilities, in the amount of $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident. If your damages exceed that cap, you may be required to complete the complicated claim bill process in order to receive full compensation.
Claim Bills Cannot be Filed Unless a Party Exhausts Other Remedies First
The first step in each claim against the government is not much different from any other tort claim. You file suit, name the defendants, go through the discovery and negotiation process, and, if necessary, have the matter decided in a court of law. Depending on the governmental agency involved, there may also be an administrative process to navigate in order to reach a resolution.
When the court and administrative process works in your favor, you will end up with a judgment or negotiated agreement as to your damage amount. If that amount is below $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident, the agent or entity should pay it and resolve the matter. If, however, the amount of your damages is found to be well above that number, you may choose to seek additional funds.
Insurance in Excess of the Cap is No Guarantee of Payment
The governmental officer or agency may have insurance coverage that exceeds the damage cap amount. If your damages are within the insurance coverage, the governmental entity may choose to settle your case out of the insurance policy. The decision to do so is, however, entirely within the discretion of the entity in question. If that agency or entity won’t release the funds, you will have to file a claim bill to attempt to receive full compensation.
Florida Claim Bill – Just a Bill
Part of the reason that you must exhaust all other remedies first is that a claim bill faces an uphill battle: You are asking, in essence, for the legislature to allocate funds out of the public coffers to cover your adjudicated damages. Though on its face that only seems fair, legislators may fear that they will gain few political benefits from giving money away, no matter how deserving the cause or case.
If you do decide to proceed, understand that a claim bill is filed with both the Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives, and must be passed by both legislative bodies. The bill must contain statements of the history of the case, the amount of the damages (previously decided by judgment or negotiated stipulation), and how much has already been paid by the officer or agency.
A claim bill must be filed within four years of the incident, and you should file before August 1 to increase the likelihood that your bill will be heard during the next regular session.
Once a claim bill is filed, a Special Master is appointed. The Special Master is charged to complete a separate discovery process, examine the evidence in the case through investigation and testimony, and decide what to recommend to the legislature in regards to the bill. The Special Master is not bound by jury verdicts or party stipulations, and may decide that a claim is worth less or even more than what was decided previously. Finally, the Special Master will prepare a formal recommendation that the bill be reported favorably or unfavorably and explain the facts and analysis that led to that recommendation.
The Special Master’s report is made available to members of the House and the Senate who must then vote on your claim bill, just like with any other piece of proposed legislation. Also like any other proposed piece of legislation, if your case is likely to be unpopular (as is almost any case seeking to allocate taxpayer funds away from the taxpayers at large), be prepared to face difficulty in obtaining a spot on the calendar for floor debate.
In the rare case that a claim bill is passed by the legislature, all parties must sign the settlement agreement before the case is considered resolved.
At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we have experience in navigating through the often-frustrating Florida claim bill process, and we can help you understand how to proceed. If you have been injured by an officer or agency of the government, contact us today for a free consultation.
Good Samaritans are usually the stuff that fuels stories of heroes. These are the ordinary citizens or the off-duty doctors and nurses who spring to the aid of someone who has been injured. They often save lives with their quick thinking and help end emergencies with better outcomes than might otherwise have occurred. Anyone can try to become a Good Samaritan, whether they have medical training or not, and Florida Statutes section 768.13 – the Good Samaritan Act – seems to offer them a certain amount of protection from civil liability for their actions… at least, when all goes well.
But what if you’ve been injured in a traffic accident or other accident and the would-be Good Samaritan who comes to your rescue actually makes things worse? What if you would have been better off if he’d left you alone? What if she was so incompetent, it seemed like she was actively trying to hurt you? What if he was trying his best, but his negligence caused you serious injury?
Whether you’ve been involved in a Good Samaritan situation as the injured victim or whether you wonder if it’s a good idea to become a Good Samaritan yourself someday, it can be helpful to keep the following points in mind:
A Good Samaritan is only protected if he provides medical care, treatment, or advice in an actual emergency situation. If there is no emergency, there is no Good Samaritan protection. Keep in mind, however, that even emergencies do not provide blanket protection to someone who does harm under the guise of a Good Samaritan.
Good Samaritans provide their services for free and act in good faith. Someone who is trying to get something for herself by “helping” you won’t qualify, and someone who neglects to show proper care won’t be fully protected.
Consent of the Injured
An injured person can refuse the help of a Good Samaritan. If that injured person is able to make decisions on their own, the Good Samaritan cannot force the person to accept any medical treatment. If the injured person says to stop, the Good Samaritan likely will not be protected.
Ordinary Reasonably Prudent
Good Samaritans offering assistance have to act in the same way that an “ordinary reasonably prudent person would have acted under the same or similar circumstances.” The definition of how “ordinary reasonably prudent” people act in a given circumstance, however, can be hard to define for every situation. Not every action of a Good Samaritan is prudent, and many injuries caused by would-be Good Samaritans are actionable by the victims. Thus, this qualification must be examined on a case-by-case basis, with a full understanding of the law and legal precedents.
If you’ve been involved in an accident and you believe that the actions of a would-be Good Samaritan on the scene made your injuries worse, it is best to consult with a qualified attorney – both about your accident and about the possibly negative actions of your “rescuer.” At the Tampa, Florida law firm of Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we have been representing injured plaintiffs since 1967, and we have the experience to help you through all aspects of your case. Contact us today for a free consultation.
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Parasailing is one of the most popular attractions along Florida’s coastline. You pay your money, take a ride in a boat, strap yourself into a harness – possibly with a friend lashed to your side – and ride a huge parachute upward as you trail behind the boat. The views are fantastic, the exhilaration is like nothing else… and the danger is real.
Prior to October of 2014, regulations in the parasailing industry were few and inadequate, leading to injuries and death as ropes broke, harnesses failed, and passengers either fell or were carried disastrously off course. Finally, after several tragic deaths over the last decade, Florida lawmakers last year passed several rules to enhance the safety of this very popular sport.
Codified in Florida Statutes section 327.37, parasailing operators must observe the following general rules (not a complete list):
- Someone in the boat other than the operator must be able to observe the person parasailing
- No parasailing at all may occur between half an hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise
- Life jackets must be worn
Commercial parasailing companies must also adhere to the following additional requirements, from Florida Statutes section 327.375:
- Obtain liability insurance – and show proof of it to any customer who asks – of at least $1 million per occurrence and $2 million annual aggregate
- Be licensed by the US Coast Guard
- Have a functional VHF marine transceiver on board, along with a separate electronic device capable of providing access to the National Weather Service forecasts and current weather conditions
- Keep a weather log for each trip and stop parasailing under certain weather conditions:
- Sustained local wind speed of 20 mph or above
- Wind gusts at 15 mph or more higher than the sustained wind speed
- Wind gusts in excess of 25 mph
- If rain or heavy fog reduces visibility to less than half a mile
- If a lightning storm comes within 7 miles
Despite these regulations, Floridians and tourists interested in parasailing will want to research the reputation and safety record of parasailing companies before engaging in the sport. If you are injured while parasailing, consult with a qualified attorney as soon as possible after your accident.
The cruise ship industry presents itself as the ultimate in vacations. Your “hotel” is a floating party, with mountains of food and endless entertainment, and in case that isn’t enough, you have regular opportunities to disembark and see different parts of the world. As the saying goes, it’s all fun and games… until someone gets hurt.
Just like amusement parks, cruise ships are liable for your injuries if they were caused by the negligence of the cruise ship or its crew. If a loose banister on a back staircase leads to a nasty fall, the cruise line should reimburse you for your injuries. If a leaky pipe makes a floor slippery, the cruise line should be held responsible for your medical expenses if you slip. If a crew member bumps into you with a cart, lacerating your leg, you shouldn’t have to pay for your own stitches and after care.
If you’re injured on a cruise ship, however, there could be worse things in store for you than a ruined vacation. Cruise lines are adept at limiting their liability and at protecting themselves from passenger injury lawsuits, so you must work immediately to protect your rights if you are injured.
Read the Fine Print
The last thing you want to be doing as you prepare for your cruise is to wade through the dense language of the contract of passage booklet. You’d rather choose your excursions and decide which lounges to eat in each night. Be advised, however, that this contract is binding between you and the cruise line, and it very likely limits your rights if you are to be injured during your cruise.
Keep Your Own Records
If you are injured, report it immediately to the crew, and file a report with the medical staff. Tell them what happened and help them treat you so that your health isn’t compromised and so you might be able to return to having fun.
While you’re doing that, however, keep your own notes. Take pictures and video footage of the scene of the accident, with details of loose screws or wet floors that might have caused your injury. Write down the names and addresses of any passengers who witnessed the accident, along with a brief description of what they say they saw. Write down the names and jobs of any crew members you talk to and notes on what you told them. Keep a log of how your injury impacts you during the remainder of the cruise.
Remember that, though you’ll likely see the crew taking notes and writing a report of the accident, their report is designed to help them – not you.
Observe Time Limits and Jurisdictional Limitations
Remember that contract you didn’t want to read? It probably tells you that you have six months to inform the cruise line about your injury – and because you agreed to it (by going on the cruise), if you miss that deadline, you could lose your whole case. You also probably have a much shorter time to file suit – usually around a year instead of the normal four. Most complicated, you probably won’t be able to file at your local courthouse. In fact, regardless of the port you left from, your residence, or the location of the cruise line’s offices, you’ll likely be required to file at a specific court in Florida.
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Imagine that you are walking by a construction site when you hear a loud noise. You turn around in time to see a large piece of equipment hurtling toward you, out of control. You are struck and injured, requiring hospitalization. Even after you are able to return to work, you have lingering pain in your knee and elbow, and your doctor says that this pain might never go away. When you’re able to get to sleep at night, you are plagued by nightmares. You can’t quite bring yourself to walk by another construction site. You used to run every morning, but the pain is too much now.
The construction company doesn’t dispute that it is responsible for your injuries, and it is willing to compensate you for your hospital bills and your time off work… but is that all you’re entitled to?
Damages that result from an injury can be tangible or intangible. Tangible damages are normally economic: Your medical bills, time lost from work, medications, and other monetary losses fall easily into this category. Tangible damages are relatively simple to prove, because there is normally a bill, a paystub, or a receipt you can produce to show how much you should be paid.
Intangible damages are harder to prove for a number of reasons, including because you may not know yourself the full toll they will eventually take on you. Your pain and suffering looms large in your life each day, but how much do they cost you? If you have returned to work, your economic damages might be as good as resolved, but it’s hard to say or feel that you have been made whole.
Florida law recognizes the burden that pain and suffering can bring after an injury, and it allows monetary awards to compensate you. Because it is more difficult to prove pain and suffering, however, be sure that you collect and preserve the following evidence from the outset of your case:
- Keep a log of your daily pain.
- Record any prescriptions for pain medications, along with how often you took them and how much over-the-counter medication you used.
- Make a list of the activities you enjoyed before your accident that are difficult to enjoy after the accident.
The best thing you can do after an accident is to consult an experienced attorney as quickly as possible. Your attorney will be able to guide you throughout the process and can work to ensure that you receive full compensation for all of your tangible and intangible damages.
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Of the thousands of people who flock to Florida’s amusement parks each year, very few will be injured on a ride. For those who are, however, a dream vacation or fun outing with the family can turn into a nightmare.
The nature of amusement park rides can spell disaster following any minor mistake in operation of the ride. Though most parks establish strict training and safety procedures to ensure the safety of their guests, a ride doesn’t have to crash to generate an actionable injury.
Imagine, for instance, that you are with your family at an amusement park and that you wait in line to ride a popular roller coaster. When your turn to board finally arrives, you approach the ride car and start to climb aboard. Just as you place your first foot in the car, however, the ride operator accidentally hits the wrong button on the ride control, and the car lurches forward. You are thrown off balance and fall, breaking your ankle and striking your head on the car behind you.
Because you are an invited guest of the amusement park, the doctrine of premises liability dictates that the park is responsible to ensure that any ride you ride and any path you walk on is safe and unlikely to injure you. Though amusement parks might not be held liable for injuries you sustain while you are breaking their rules (such as not keeping your hands and arms inside the car at all times during the ride), any time you are injured due to operator negligence or other negligence by park employees, you are entitled to compensation.
If you have been injured on a Florida amusement park ride, call the law firm of Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore. We have experience in personal injury relating to premises liability and would be honored to help you receive the compensation you are due. Contact us today for a free consultation.
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When more than one person is at fault in an accident, Florida, along with only twelve other states, holds to a doctrine of comparative negligence, which apportions a party’s share of the damages according to each party’s share of the blame.
While some states hold that any shared blame results in no recovery at all and other states have a tiered system for apportioning blame, comparative negligence states require each party to take responsibility for their portion of the damages, whether that share is determined to be large or small.
Consider, for example, that you are driving the speed limit and trying to be cautious, but you glance occasionally at your cell phone. You come to a full stop at a four way stop, but a new text comes in as you pull into the intersection. Because you’re distracted, you don’t see another vehicle approaching at a high speed from the right. The other vehicle runs the stop sign and impacts the passenger side of your car, causing damage and injuries totaling $100,000. You hire an attorney, and she sues the other driver on your behalf and proves at trial the full amount of damages. If a jury determines that you were 1% to blame, and the other driver was 99% at fault, then that other driver (or his insurance) would be required to pay $99,000 of the damages. If the jury determines that you were 20% at fault, the other driver would have to pay $80,000, and so forth.
Understanding comparative negligence is important because, particularly in two-car auto accidents, it is not uncommon for both parties to have done something wrong. Therefore, when negotiating a pre-trial resolution to your case, you must gauge the likelihood that the jury could find that you contributed in some way to the damages – either before or after the accident – and take that into account in how you make and respond to settlement offers.
An experienced attorney is an important resource when evaluating the strength of your case and the likelihood that a jury might assign you some portion of fault. At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we are highly skilled in personal injury litigation, with a full understanding of what elements might factor into a jury’s decision and how juries decide comparative negligence. Contact us today for a free consultation.
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It’s an old adage, but true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Having a skilled attorney who can get you money in an accident settlement is good… but never needing that attorney in the first place is ideal.
Here are a few tips to keep you safe on the roads.
Be Aware: You might be a safe driver, but even you can’t control everything that happens outside your car. That old clunker in the lane next to you might suddenly suffer a malfunction and swerve into your lane. That child playing on the lawn up the street might lose control of his ball and chase it right into your path. That tiny old woman backing her huge car out of her parking space might not realize that you’re driving behind her. Anticipating possible dangers is the first step to avoiding them.
Yield: It does no good to spot a potential accident if you aren’t willing to change your driving pattern. Give way to bad drivers. As legally entitled as you are to be in that space, it generally costs less time and aggravation to save someone from their own stupidity than to suffer the consequences and try to get them to reimburse you.
Don’t Speed: Five miles per hour over the speed limit may feel safe, but it will still cut back on your response time. (It could also limit your recovery if the court determines that you were partially responsible for your damages because you were speeding.)
Limit Distractions: That incoming text message, email, or video-chat request isn’t as important as your life. Nor do you need to tell anyone where you are or where you’re going while you’re driving. While you’re driving, your only job is driving.
Be Calm: Driving angry is never a good idea. Nor is driving while you’re feeling any strong emotion that vies for your attention. If you aren’t able to concentrate on the road, don’t drive. While you’re concentrating on your problems, you could miss potential dangers.
Pull Over: If that text is important, pull over safely and answer it. If your children are hurting each other, don’t just threaten: pull over. If you’re feeling angry enough to do some damage, pull over and throw some rocks at other rocks. If you’re too distracted to drive… don’t.
Most accidents are preventable if you are attentive and ready to adjust your driving to whatever might happen. If another driver’s bad driving happens too fast for you to avoid the accident, however, a great attorney can help minimize the negative consequences.
If you are in need of a legal malpractice, personal injury, medical malpractice, accident, or whistleblower lawyer in Tampa, Florida, the Tampa Bay attorneys of Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore would be pleased to speak with you. We fight aggressively to protect the rights of our clients. Click here or call us today at (813) 225-4000 to schedule a free consultation.