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You Can't Sue the King--What is Sovereign Immunity?

You Can't Sue the King--What is Sovereign Immunity?

Have you been injured by a doctor’s negligence? Has a physician at a hospital injured you because of medical malpractice? Did a city- or county-owned bus injure you during a car accident? If so, there is important information you need to know about recent changes to Florida’s sovereign immunity law.

Last year Governor Scott signed into law an amendment to Florida’s sovereign immunity statute that greatly extended sovereign immunity protections to doctors and physicians working at hospitals in Florida.

First, what is sovereign immunity? Sovereign immunity essentially means you can’t sue the government, except in very limited situations. Even in these limited situations when you can sue the government, your recovery is greatly limited. It is an old legal concept dating back to English common law. In olden days, it meant that citizens could not sue the king. When America declared independence, the American government inherited this concept. Now it means that you can’t sue the government. This concept extends to the States, and each State has a law governing how far sovereign immunity protects the State, counties, and cities in Florida from lawsuits.

Sovereign immunity can apply to medical malpractice and vehicle crashes. If a bus owned by the City of Gainesville runs you over, you can’t necessarily recover the total cost of your injuries from the City. Instead, you can only recover the amount allowed by law. This amount could be far less than the actual cost of your injuries. The only time you could recover more than the statutory amount is if the City’s insurance coverage exceeds that amount. In either case, the amount you can recover is not necessarily equal to the costs and expenses you incur because of your injury.

In Florida, Section 768.28 of the Florida Statutes governs the extent of sovereign immunity. As amended by the Florida legislature, Section 768.28 extends the protections of sovereign immunity to private teaching hospitals. That means that, just like you can’t sue the government, you can’t sue certain hospitals.

The law also provides a limited “waiver” of sovereign immunity protection. That means that you can sue the hospitals, but only in limited circumstances. Even if you can sue the hospital, the amount of money you can recover is limited to $200,000 for one instance of malpractice, and $300,000 for multiple instances of malpractice. Thus, if a doctor amputates the wrong leg or arm, or the doctor misdiagnoses a disease that causes it to go untreated, or if any number of negligent acts occur, or if the doctor commits any type of medical error, your recovery is limited by statute, instead of by the extent of your actual injury or other applicable law.

The changes to Section 768.28 extend sovereign immunity to 19 teaching hospitals in the state of Florida, including all employees of Shands Hospital at the University of Florida. This number has the potential to drastically increase as the number of accredited medical schools in Florida increases. Currently there are four accredited medical schools in Florida, but three more undergoing accreditation, and each medical school can have multiple teaching hospitals.

When choosing a hospital at which to seek treatment, you may wish to determine if the hospital is protected by sovereign immunity. The hospitals are required by law to post notices of their sovereign immunity, but they are not required to specifically inform any patient. If you are going for a routine medical procedure, you should consider whether you want to seek treatment at another hospital, because if a doctor at a sovereignly immune hospital misdiagnoses any illness, you can’t sue the doctor and your recovery is greatly limited.

If you think a doctor or physician at a Florida hospital has injured you through malpractice or negligence, call the Law Offices of Stephen K. Miller for a free consultation at (866) 496-8752 or contact us via email at Info@ForYourLaw.com so we can help you get the justice you deserve.

BY: Stephen K. Miller, Attorney at Law
May 18, 2012
 
 
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