Bill to hike caps on government liability advances in House
Mike Beltran. Image via Colin Hackley.

'Our sovereign immunity scheme shields wrongdoers while making it harder for victims to receive justice.'

The cap on liability for cities, counties and other government entities would see a significant increase under a bill that passed through a House committee.

Rep. Mike Beltran, a Lithia Republican, is sponsoring HB 401. The measure originally sought to get rid of the concept of “sovereign immunity” which protects governments from liability. But lawmakers amended the bill in the House Civil Justice Committee to merely increase the caps on their liability.

The bill passed on a 13-4 vote, but even some supporters said they were uncomfortable with the size of the increase in the caps.

Under current law, if a government employee injures a person in the course of their job — for example, in a school bus crash — the School Board must pay out $200,000 in compensation to an individual victim, or if there are multiple victims, $300,000, even if a jury awards much larger damages. The bill increases the caps to $2.5 million per individual and $5 million per incident.

Beltran said he set the new caps to keep up with inflation. The caps were first put in place in the 1970s and were last increased in 2010.

“The limits in 2010 were inadequate at that point,” Beltran said. “Most of the claims bills are under $1 million. … We would eliminate a lot of this claim bill process.”

Government entities, including public hospitals and special taxing districts, have “sovereign immunity,” which protects them — and by extension, taxpayers — from having to pay out large settlement claims. A victim, or their family, can still seek the full payout of the amount awarded by the court, but that requires them asking the Legislature to pass a claims bill, an arduous process that can often take years or decades.

“Our sovereign immunity scheme shields wrongdoers while making it harder for victims to receive justice,” said Todd Michaels, Secretary of the Florida Justice Association, a trial lawyer lobby group.

The Florida League of Cities, the Florida Association of Counties and other groups representing small School Boards said the increase is much too large and would allow one incident to overwhelm a small city’s ability to function, or require them to hike taxes to pay for increased insurance coverage.

“Without those protections we would essentially run into a situation where a city could go bankrupt because of one incident,” said David Cruz, deputy general counsel for the Florida League of Cities.

The four members voting against the measure — all Republicans — said the size of the increase was too high.

“On balance, to go from $200,000 and $300,000 to the new caps of $2.5 million to $5 million is unreasonable,” said Rep. David Smith, a Winter Springs Republican.

The bill now heads to the House Appropriations Committee. The Senate version of the bill (SB 604) hasn’t been heard in that chamber, but would only increase the caps to $400,000 per individual and $600,000 per incident.

Gray Rohrer

One comment

  • Jim Cline

    February 9, 2023 at 4:42 pm

    How about we manage our government so that we do not kill or maim citizens or visitors in Florida? Then, we won’t have to pay out claims.

Comments are closed.


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