Can I Sue the Government if My Motorcycle Crashed on a Poorly Maintained Road?
Motorcycle accidents are far too common here in Florida. Statistics from 2016 show we lead the nation in motorcycle accident deaths. Injuries from motorcycle accidents are just as prevalent, despite most motorcyclists wearing protective gear while riding.
When a motorcycle accident results from poor road conditions, victims often wonder whether they have a legal right to compensation. Can you sue the government entity responsible for keeping roads safe? The short answer is, “yes,” but with various qualifications.
How Sovereign Immunity Affects Government Liability
When government neglect of a road surface leads to a motorcycle accident, victims often must contend with the “doctrine of sovereign immunity.” This refers to the general proposition, widely recognized in American law, that a government cannot be sued without its consent.
In the United States, the federal government and state governments possess sovereign immunity. In other words, they can only be sued if and to the extent they pass legislation authorizing a lawsuit against themselves. Municipal governments are treated as subdivisions of the state for sovereign immunity purposes, so the state government decides whether to consent to them being sued.
Under the Florida Tort Claims Act (FCTA), the State of Florida has waived some of its sovereign immunity in road accident cases, but only under the specific circumstances discussed below. Generally speaking, this means that if an unsafe condition on a public Florida road causes your accident and injury, you may have the right to file a lawsuit against the Florida government entity responsible for keeping that road well maintained. That could be Florida’s Department of Transportation or any subdivision of state government, including municipal road departments. (Privately-owned roads, in contrast, don’t present a sovereign immunity issue, since they’re owned and maintained by private citizens and entities.)
An experienced Florida motorcycle accident attorney can help you determine how sovereign immunity might affect you if you’ve been injured in a motorcycle accident because of an unsafe road.
Limitations on a Personal Injury Claim Against a Government Entity
Because of the waiver of sovereign immunity, it’s possible to file a personal injury claim against state and local governments in Florida if their negligence or a wrongful act or omission relating to road maintenance caused your motorcycle accident. In that lawsuit, you may seek compensation through money damages.
As mentioned above, however, the Florida Tort Claims Act imposes some restrictions on filing your claim. Here are some of the most significant restrictions:
- You have only three years to file a personal injury claim against a government entity. This makes it especially important to contact an attorney right away if you’ve been injured because of poor road conditions. The sooner your attorney can visit and document the site of the accident, the better.
- Before you file a claim with a Florida court, you must have first presented the claim in writing to the government entity, and the entity must have denied it.
- Damages will normally be capped at $200,000 for any single claim, and at $300,000 multiple claims arising from the same event. You may be able to recover a larger amount, but only if the Florida legislature approves. In any event, you will not be entitled to punitive damages or prejudgment interest.
- In most cases, you can only sue the government entity, not the government employee who took the actions that led to your accident. Government employees generally enjoy immunity from liability so long as their actions occurred in the regular course of their government employment. If a government employee does something outside of the “scope” of his or her employment that makes a road dangerous, then the employee might be held personally liable.
Because of these restrictions, it is essential for victims of motorcycle accidents caused by poor road conditions to seek the advice of a personal injury attorney experienced in bringing claims against Florida government entities.
Gathering Evidence of the Poorly Maintained Road
Seeking legal representation as soon as possible after your motorcycle accident occurs is especially important in road condition cases, because of the probability the government will want to fix the road where the accident occurred quickly. The sooner you seek legal advice, the sooner your lawyer can visit the scene and document the road condition (hopefully before the road gets repaired).
Potholes are one of the biggest causes of motorcycle accidents in Florida and the nation. Over the years, numerous Floridians have been injured while riding their motorcycles over these road hazards. One woman in Jacksonville (who was thrown from her motorcycle due to a pothole) sued the city for $195,000.
But, of course, it’s not just potholes that could cause you to lose control of your motorcycle. Sometimes, it’s poor paving jobs that leave uneven surfaces between lanes; slick pavement due to the city not properly cleaning a spilled substance; or construction crews left an object in the road they forgot to pick up. Motorcycles are more vulnerable to wiping out in these road conditions because of their smaller size and less stable design compared to cars.
Like private entities, government agencies in Florida have the right to appeal a judgment in your favor. Even if your claim is strong, an appeal could drag it out. The more compelling the evidence, the less likely you’ll have to deal with a delay in recovering damages for your injury. Having an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer on your side from day one can help you build the strongest case possible.
Realistic Expectations on Compensation
Always remember that even if your legal team has an excellent track record in recovering damages from government agencies, that is a good sign, but there’s still no guarantee of recovering damages. In a road accident case against a government entity, the more important consideration is whether your attorney has the experience and commitment to pursue your claim effectively and compassionately.
At Dolman Law Group, we represent Floridians who have been injured in motorcycle accidents caused preventable road conditions. If you’ve been injured in that kind of accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the Dolman Law Group today online or by phone at (727) 451-6900 to schedule a free consultation to discuss the facts and circumstances of your accident.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765