Historically, the doctrine of sovereign immunity prevented litigants from asserting claims against governmental entities. Over time, however, this concept of complete immunity for the government has given way to a more limited form of sovereign immunity, under which those previously protected by the doctrine are subjected to tort liability. However, certain limitations and restrictions still apply.
It is not always clear whether and to what extent a particular entity is entitled to immunity. In such cases, it is up to the courts to make the appropriate determination.
Proceedings in the Trial Court
In case of Plancher v. UCF Athletics Association, Inc., the plaintiffs were the parents of a University of Central Florida football player who collapsed and died during practice conditioning drills in 2008. The parents brought a negligence suit against both the university and its athletics association, but the court dismissed the suit against the university on the first day of trial. The jury found in favor of the parents and awarded them $10 million. On appeal to the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal, the court reversed, holding that the association was entitled to limited sovereign immunity.
On Further Appeal to the State Supreme Court
On appeal, the parents argued that the university did not have sufficient control over the day-to-day operations of the association so as to entitle the association to limited sovereign immunity pursuant to Flo. Stat. § 768.28. Upon consideration, the Florida Supreme Court disagreed and approved the appellate court’s holding insofar as it held that the association was entitled to limited sovereign immunity. The court then quashed the appellate court’s statement remanding for entry of a judgment in the amount of the statutory cap of $200,000.
The court so ordered because it found that the association was not an autonomous or self-sufficient entity but instead was subject to substantial state constraints over its day-to-day operations. Since the university had structural control of the association, the association was primarily acting as an instrumentality of the state. As such, it was entitled to limited sovereign immunity under Flo. Stat. § 768.28.
According to the state’s high court, the proper course of action was not to reduce the amount of the judgment but rather to remand the case for entry of a judgment corresponding to the jury’s award of damages while limiting the association’s liability for payment to $200,000 pursuant to Flo. Stat. § 768.28(5). The court then stated, “The [parents] must look to the Legislature to collect any amount awarded above the statutory cap.”
To Get Legal Advice from an Experienced Florida Wrongful Death Lawyer
If you have lost a loved one, you may be wondering whether you have a case against a party whose negligence or recklessness may have contributed to your loved one’s death. To speak to an experienced wrongful death attorney about your situation, call Cohn & Smith at 954-431-8100. We will be happy to schedule a free initial consultation to go over the facts of your case and advise you as to your legal rights to pursue monetary compensation from those responsible. We handle cases throughout South Florida, including in Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Weston, and North Dade County.
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