Suing a City, County or State Government for Injury - Calhoun v. Nienhuis

November 13, 2013

gull-1416650-m.jpgThere are a number of procedural hurdles that must be navigated in suing a government entity for personal injury or on other grounds. In Calhoun v. Nienhuis, the Fifth District Court of Appeals considers two of them: sovereign immunity and statutes of limitations.

Ms. Calhoun sued the Hernando County Sheriff, Alvin Nienhuis, in his official capacity alleging that she was injured while a pre-trial detainee in the County Jail. The injury, which the court didn't describe, was allegedly caused by Jail employee negligence.

A trial court granted summary judgment to the Sheriff, finding that the claim was covered by the one-year statute of limitations set forth in section 95.11(5)(g), Florida Statutes. Because Calhoun filed her suit against the Sheriff more than a year after the alleged injury, the trial court said her claim was time-barred. The trial judge rejected Calhoun's argument that the applicable statute of limitations was the four-year statute covering waivers of sovereign immunity and codified in section 768.28, Florida Statutes.

City, county and state government entities generally enjoy sovereign immunity, making them subject to suit only where the Florida legislature has authorized the suit or the entity is found to have waived its immunity. Section 768.28 waives sovereign immunity from liability for torts, or personal injury claims, provided that the person suing (plaintiff) gives pre-suit notice to the entity being sued within three years from when the claim accrues. The law also requires the plaintiff to file suit within four years of when the claim accrues.

As the court explained, section 95.11 applies specifically to inmate lawsuits and requires that they be brought within one year from when the injury accrues. The statute also states clearly, however, that it is superseded by any other applicable statute of limitations.

As a result, the Fifth District reversed the decision on appeal. In 1991, the Florida Supreme Court specifically ruled in Public Health Trust v. Menendez that section 768.28 supersedes section 95.11. "The language of [the exception clause] is plain: If a different statute prescribes a different time, then the periods of time in chapter 95 have no applicability," the high court concluded. Ten years prior to the Menendez decision, the state supreme court also made clear in Beard v. Hambrick that section 768.28 supersedes other limitations statutes, even those without a specific exception clause. The First District Court of Appeals later explained that the Beard decision determined that section 768.28 "was intended to apply to all actions permitted by the limited waiver of immunity, notwithstanding the fact that a different statute of limitations might apply had the action been brought against a private defendant."

The statute of limitations might seem like an obscure and highly technical legal issue, but the fact of the matter is that determining the applicable limitations period in any given lawsuit can mean the difference between a lawsuit going forward and a lawsuit being dismissed. This is just one of a slew of procedural issues of which a person considering a lawsuit must mull over prior to filing. It is vital that a person who is thinking about suing seek experienced, competent legal advice from a well-respected and capable attorney.

The South Florida personal injury lawyers at Anidjar and Levine represent clients in personal injury cases throughout the area, including in Hialeah, Boca Raton and Hollywood. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident we are happy to discuss your potential claim in a free initial consultation. You can reach the firm's Ft. Lauderdale offices at (800) 747-3733 or contact us online.

Related blog posts:

The Statute of Limitations in Florida Negligence Cases - Cisko v. Diocese of Steubenville

Florida Negligence 101 - Stilson v. Valley Fine Foods

Evidence, Discovery in Florida Slip and Fall Cases - Publix Supermarkets v. Santos