Florida Supreme Court on Statutory Cap
The Florida Supreme Court’s recent decision in Plancher v. UCFA will impact the legal landscape of personal injury cases for years to come. In the case, the court overruled a trial judge’s decision that the University of Central Florida Athletics Association did not benefit from the statutory cap normally imposed on state agencies in personal injury and wrongful death cases.
The decision comes amidst criticism that the law is not fair to victims of negligence. Under the existing law, a person injured by the negligence of a private citizen can be fully compensated for their injuries. But if the injury happens at the hands of a state agency or state employee, there is a limit on how much can be claimed.
Tragedy in Summer
This case had a tragic beginning in the summer of 2008. During a football practice, Ereck Plancher suddenly dropped dead while conducting conditioning drills. Soon after the tragic death, Plancher’s family sued the school’s athletic association for negligence. At trial, the athletic association argued to the judge that they should be treated like a state agency, and therefore have their damages capped at $200,000. But the trial judge did not agree. According to his thinking, the school was not the defendant in the case, the association was. And he let the case go to trial to have a jury decide the case.
At trial, the jury heard the case and found that the association was negligent. In fact, they handed the family a verdict of $10 million. This served as both a way to compensate the family for their loss, and a lesson to the association and team that would work as a way to shape how they treat their athletes in the future. And of course, these are two of the most important aspects to personal injury law. In the ideal situation, the victim will be made whole as much as possible, and the party responsible will be held accountable.
Supreme Court Rules
As expected, the school’s athletic association appealed the verdict. They stuck with their argument that they should be exempt from the verdict of $10 million, because they were a state agency under the meaning of the law. The law in question, Florida Statutes 768.28, establishes the statutory cap on state agencies. Under the language of the law, the state of Florida, its agencies, and subdivisions are allowed to be sued, but can only be held liable for $200,000.
You can see why this is problematic in some situations. On the one hand, if a victim is injured by a private citizen he or she can collect the full measure of what is owed. But if by some unfortunate mistake, as in the case of Mr. Plancher, a government employee is responsible, then the victim is very limited in how much they can collect. Despite what seems like an unfair situation, the Supreme Court of Florida has held that this uneven treatment is constitutional.
And in this particular case, the Supreme Court agreed that the association was an agency of the state, so the award will be limited to $200,000. But the court did enter the $10 million judgement, which will give the family one last chance to recover the full verdict.
The law allows a victim make an appeal to the Florida legislature to have the entire award entered. But the process is difficult, and there is no telling whether it will happen or not. To do so, the family or victim has to appeal to the legislature and get them to pass a special bill authorizing funds to pay the verdict. In the past results have been mixed; last year the legislature only passed 11 such bills.
In the Miami area, Alan Goldfarb P.A. is prepared to help you with your personal injury case. Whether it involves a claim against the state of Florida, or a private citizen, we fight for victims of accidents and injuries. Contact us so we can evaluate your case.