Will Government Caps On Damages Add Insult To Injury In Police Accident?
I’ve written previously about how unfair Florida’s sovereign immunity law is when it comes to accident. Sovereign immunity is the concept that the government (which means the State of Florida and any political subdivision of the State of Florida, including, but not limited to cities, counties, universities, water districts, school boards, etc.) can dictate how much an injury victim can receive if the victim is injured by the negligence of a government worker. I recently read an article on the Orlando WESH.com website that highlighted how unfair this rule is.
According to the WESH piece, Sanford Police Department Officer Stephen Santiago was arrested Sunday morning following a hit-and-run crash on Highway 17-92 in Seminole County. Apparently Officer Santiago hit another vehicle, but elected not to stop. Officers from his own agency, the Sanford Police Department, stopped him, but once they found out he was one of their colleagues, they called the Florida Highway Patrol. Troopers are said to be continuing their investigation.
Curiously (to me, at least), Sanford Police officials were reportedly going to see if any police policies or procedures were violated.
The reason this is curious to me is that I originally assumed from reading the beginning of the article that Officer Santiago was off-duty when this incident occurred. That fact that they are looking at which police procedures may have been violated makes me think that Officer Santiago may have been on duty at the time. Whether Officer Santiago was on duty may make a big difference if his hit-and-run caused any injuries to the occupants of the other car.
If Officer Santiago was off duty, he could be held personally liable for any injuries he caused. If he has automobile insurance, the injured party could settle with this insurance company, or could elect to seek a Judgment against Officer Santiago and attempt to collect all of his or her damages, whether it be from liability insurance, garnishing wages, or executing against Officer Santiago’s personal items or real estate, and selling them for cash.
On the other hand, if Officer Santiago was on-duty, the injured party will have to jump through several procedural hoops presented by the Florida sovereign immunity statute, §768.28, including a $200,000.00 cap on damages. If the injured person’s damages are worth more than $200,000.00, the injured person can attempt to convince the Florida Legislature to pass a special law, called a “Claims Bill”, in order to receive anything over $200,000.00. There is no other avenue to collect. Guess how well “Claims Bills” go over in Florida’s legislature?
If there was anyone injured in this past weekend’s crash with Officer Santiago, I’m hoping that Officer Santiago was off-duty. At least this will give the injured person a fighting chance to receive full justice.
If you have any questions following a Florida car accident, call Winter Park personal injury attorneys Kim Cullen and Robert Hemphill, at 407-254-4901, or visit http://www.cullen-hemphill.com.