House spending panel delays vote on sovereign immunity bill

Mike Beltran
The push to increase the sovereign immunity caps comes as the Legislature fast-tracks bills to limit lawsuits against insurers and businesses.

Action on a bill to increase the sovereign immunity limits for damages against state and local government entities to $2,500,000 per person and $5,000,000 per incident has been deferred.

The House Appropriations Committee deferred action on HB 401, filed by Rep. Mike Beltran, because, as one lobbyist noted, “it got into trouble with votes.”

Sovereign immunity is the principle that a government cannot be sued without its consent. The Florida Constitution, though, allows the Legislature to waive this immunity. To that end Florida law allows people to sue government entities. But it caps the recoveries to $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident.

The caps, which were passed in 2002, apply to “all of the elements of the monetary award to a plaintiff against a sovereignly immune entity.” That means that a plaintiff’s entire recovery, including damages, back pay, attorneys fees, and any other costs, cannot exceed the capped amounts.

Government entities can choose to settle a claim in excess of the caps if that amount is within the limits of its insurance coverage. Otherwise, the only way for a claimant to collect beyond the caps is for the Legislature to pass a claims bill.

In addition to substantially increasing the caps, Beltran’s bill also makes changes to the pre-suit process for sovereign immunity claims. Currently, a government entity has six months to review and dispose of a claim before the claimant may file a lawsuit. Beltran’s bill would limit that time frame to just three months instead.

Beltran’s bill also increases the time limitation for filing a claim against a government entity from three years to four years after the claim accrues. The bill eliminates the statute of limitations for filing a claim against a governmental entity for sexual battery if the victim was under the age of 16 at the time of the incident.

There are 192 lobbyist registrations on HB 401, according to House records.

Sen. Joe Gruters has sponsored a companion measure (SB 604). The bills are not identical. Gruters’ bill would increase the current $20,000 per person cap to $300,000 and the per incident cap to $600,000. Beginning July 1, 2024, and annually thereafter, Gruters’ bill would require the Department of Financial Services to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index for the Southeast or a successor index as calculated by the United States Department of Labor.

The Senate bill has been referred to the Judiciary, Governmental Oversight and Accountability, and Appropriations Committees. It has not been heard by any of them yet, though.

The lawmakers are pushing to increase the caps as legislative leadership fast-track bills to provide insurance companies and businesses increased protections from lawsuits.

The full House is slated to discuss HB 837 when it meets in Session on Thursday, and potentially vote on the bill Friday. The Senate’s version of the tort bill, SB 236 by Sen. Travis Hutson, will be heard by the Senate Fiscal Committee Thursday.

While Hutson said Tuesday the chambers had reached an agreement on the tort changes, he filed a lengthy amendment to SB 236 Wednesday afternoon.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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