Recently, a Florida appeals court issued an opinion in a lawsuit brought by an injured cyclist against Pinellas County. Historically, sovereign immunity protects governmental entities and officials from lawsuits stemming from the performance of their official government duties. However, in the interest of fairness, the federal government (as well as most states) provides waivers to this immunity. Florida permits individuals to sue the government in certain situations, but does not allow plaintiffs to recover punitive damages or compensation over $200,000.
In the case above, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the county for injuries he suffered when he lost control of his bike and fell into a ditch in an intersection maintained by the county. The plaintiff testified that he was heading west, approaching the intersection when he noticed a car stopped in the northbound lane. He wanted to proceed south but was not sure what the driver was going to do, so he remained on the shoulder of the road. However, the car struck him, and he blacked out.
The plaintiff claimed that the county was responsible for his damages because they negligently maintained the roadway and failed to warn motorists, pedestrians, and bikers of the road’s dangerous condition. The plaintiff contended that the intersection’s shoulder lacked clear zones and slopes for bikers. The lower court let the case against the government proceed, but in response, the county claimed that they were not responsible because the plaintiff could not prove that they were the cause of the accident or his injuries. The court granted the county’s motion for summary judgment, but the plaintiff appealed, arguing that there were genuine issues of material fact that remain unresolved.