There are many reasons why sidewalks are broken or uneven in Miami: tree roots can tear through the pavement, extreme weather can crack the concrete, sinking grounds floor can displace the sidewalk, etc. A Florida personal injury attorney will face several challenges when attempting to recover damages from a governmental agency for a client that has slipped or tripped and fallen as a result of an uneven or a broken sidewalk.
As a general rule, a government agency owes a duty of reasonable care to pedestrians who make use of publicly owned walkways. Included in this duty is the responsibility of the government to maintain its sidewalks in a safe condition. Despite this general duty of care imposed upon South Florida cities and counties, recovering damages for a slip and fall on a defective sidewalk can be complex.
Where Does Liability Lie?
The first challenge when recovering damages from a government agency for injuries resulting from a broken or uneven sidewalk is determining which agency to sue. Twenty years ago, Miami Dade County was largely responsible for most of the sidewalks and roadways in the county. This was due to the fact that there were very few incorporated cities in Miami-Dade. However, in the past twenty years, many cities have incorporated such as Aventura, Doral and Sunny Isles Beach. Consequently, the responsibility of maintaining sidewalks and roadways have shifted from the County to these newly incorporated cities or to the State for State roads. Additionally, many subdivisions were developed in the past twenty years and agreements have been entered between the various governmental agencies and the developers shifting the responsibility of maintenance to the developers and later to the Homeowner Associations. As such, a personal injury lawyer will first have to determine who is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk or road in a safe condition.
Once the proper party is identified, timely notices must be sent out to these governmental agencies who may be responsible. Florida Law requires that in order to maintain a claim for damages against the State of Florida or one of its agencies or subdivisions, the injured party must present the claim in writing to the appropriate agency within 3 years after such claim accrues. F.S. §768.28. In certain cases, the claim shall also be presented to the Florida Department of Financial Services. F.S. §768.28. Failure to timely notify the appropriate government agencies will preclude any recovery for damages caused by the government’s negligence. Most of the time, the personal injury attorney will have sufficient time to file the client’s claim.
Limitation of Liability
Finally, the last difficulty in recovering damages from a government agency for injuries resulting from a broken or uneven sidewalk is the government’s limitation of liability. Although the Florida Government has waived sovereign immunity (the prohibition of suing the government) for liability for torts, Florida Law limits the recovery for damages from a government agency to $200,000.00. F.S. §768.28. In most slip and fall cases, damages do not surpass this damage cap. However, there are cases where damages resulting from a defective sidewalk can surpass this $200,000.00 limit of liability. This would be the case, for instance, of an elderly person who slipped or tripped on a sidewalk and sustained serious fractures as a result of the fall. In some of these cases, the injured party can no longer walk properly and damages can be in the millions of dollars. In such case, the personal injury lawyer will have to secure a judgment against the government agency and report the amount awarded in excess of the $200,000.00 limit of liability to the Legislature requesting that an act be passed by the Legislature approving the payment of the damages in excess of the $200,000.00. This process, referred to as a Claim’s Bill is quite involved. Our firm has successfully had Claim’s Bills passed, one in the amount of $22 million dollars.
As explained herein, recovering damages from a governmental agency for a slip or trip and fall on a sidewalk is not a simple task. A qualified slip and fall attorney should be consulted in every such case to ensure that all procedural requirements have been properly met by the injured party and that liability can be proven.
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