Sovereign Immunity: Can You Sue The Government?
We are lucky enough to live in America, and often, we forget about the many liberties and freedoms that we have here in the USA. One such freedom is the freedom to sue your own government. That is rare in world civilizations. Rarely does just a common citizen get to sue his or her own government, but here in the United States, we do have that right.
But that doesn’t mean you can sue the government for just anything. The government (or the “sovereign,”) is in fact immune from certain kinds of lawsuits, and there are limitations on the amount of damages that you can collect when the government’s immunity—called sovereign immunity—applies.
Operational Level Activities
The government has waived its immunity from lawsuits under certain kinds of situations.
You still cannot sue the government for what is called an operational level activity. This means that you cannot sue the government for a decision that it may make. You can only sue the government for how it carries out those decisions if it does in fact carry those decisions out in a negligent manner.
For example, let’s say that you are mugged on the street. You cannot sue the government for not having enough policemen on the street. The decision as to how many police to employ, where to put them, where they patrol, or how many will be working at any one time, is a planning level, operational decision, that you cannot second guess.
However, now let’s assume that you are mugged on the street, and the police officer shows up to the scene too late, arrives with a defective firearm, and accidentally runs over your foot with his car when he arrives. Now, you could sue the city, as your lawsuit is alleging that the way the government (the police officer) carried out its functions, was negligent or careless.
Even if you can sue the government, your damages may be limited. Damages are capped at $200,000 per person, or $300,00 “per incident.” For many victims, this isn’t a problem—their damages are far below these limits. But in other, more catastrophic cases, these numbers can severely restrict what can be recovered.
If, for example, a city bus drove on a sidewalk and injured 10 people, all ten people would have to divide equally, the sum total of $300,000. When the Parkland victims sued for their injuries at the Stoneman Douglas school shooting, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that if they won their case, all the victims would have to divide the total of $300,000 as the entire shooting was “one incident.”
You can certainly sue the government. But sovereign immunity cases are difficult and you should make sure you have an attorney that understands the nuances of these kinds of cases.
If you have been injured by a government agency or actor, we can help. Call the West Palm Beach personal injury attorneys at Pike & Lustig today.