Slip-and-Fall on Public Property

Slip-and-fall accidents can happen almost anywhere a property owner or operator fails to use proper care in constructing or maintaining a walking surface. This is just as true on a city sidewalk or government building as it is in your local grocery store. However, as our Miami slip-and-fall accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. can explain, claims from injuries that occur on public property are inherently more complicated.

Claims against government agencies and employees must overcome a defense of sovereign immunity. There are also stringent notification requirements and damage caps.

Our legal team approaches these cases with nearly 50 year of experience in South Florida injury law. We can anticipate the defense strategies government agencies will employ, and know how to effectively counter them.

Government agencies are not bullet-proof against slip-and-fall claims, but you may encounter some additional challenges. If you don’t follow procedures and meet certain deadlines, you may not be able to file a lawsuit at all. Our attorneys will work to help you overcome those hurdles.

Dangerous Conditions on Public Property

Individuals who are injured while on public – i.e., government-owned – property may be entitled to damages.

However, government agencies enjoy sovereign immunity that may shield them in some circumstances. Florida Statute 768.28 is the statute that spells out the state’s waiver of liability.

Some examples of dangerous conditions on public property that could lead to a Miami slip-and-fall accident include:

  • Cracked/ uneven sidewalks
  • Steps that are cracked or lack adequate handrails;
  • Slippery surfaces near public pools;
  • Poorly-lit parking lots;
  • Poorly-designed pedestrian areas;
  • Lack of lighting;
  • Grates or covers in the footpath;
  • Curbs without adequate warning;
  • Slippery surfaces caused by oil or sand;
  • Improperly-constructed staircases.

These conditions can exist on sidewalks, walkways, parking lots, public schools, public libraries, public playgrounds, street, court building, Veterans Administration or other government office or building.

Miami is especially prone to sidewalk slip-and-fall accidents due to cracked sidewalks or open manholes where construction isn’t properly warned. Defective sidewalks are a known problem in Miami, where tree roots tear through pavement, extreme weather cracks the concrete and sinking ground floor can cause displacement.

However, not all sidewalks are considered “public.” As noted in the Fla. Dist. App. 4th decision in 2001 in Broward County v. City of Sunrise, ownership of a sidewalk doesn’t necessarily determine whether a city or county is responsible for sidewalk maintenance. Rather, one must look closely at the statutory scheme. The Code of Miami makes it unlawful an owner of a property contiguous to a sidewalk to allow that sidewalk to remain in dangerous condition. Section 54-54 requires the property owner under certain conditions to repair that sidewalk. The Office of the City Attorney in 2008 affirmed the city’s authority to enforce that ordinance.

Sovereign Immunity

Because government agencies are financed by tax-dollars and offer public services not paralleled by the private sector, they are entitled to special legal protections from injury lawsuits. As noted in the 1993 case of Seguine v. City of Miami, Fla. 3rd DCA, the state and its subdivision are sovereignly immune from tort liability unless such liability is waived by statute. Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, the government and its agents can’t be liable to any member of the public for civil damages. However, our slip-and-fall accident lawyers advising Miami know that rule isn’t without exception. Under Florida Statute 768.28, government agencies in Florida can be liable for personal injury or death caused by a negligent act or omission of any city employee acting within the course and scope of employment. Corporations acting as agencies or instrumentalities for the city can also be sued for damages.

Before a case can get underway, your attorney will likely want to determine the classification of the allegedly negligent government act. Government functions may take on one of three roles:

  • Discretionary. These involve higher-level planning and decision-making. Such acts are immune from liability.
  • Ministerial. These require little or no personal judgment, and are usually carried out at lower levels. There is no immunity for ministerial acts.
  • Public Duty. Plaintiffs alleging a tort by the government must prove defendant breached a common law or statutory tort duty to the plaintiff individually, not a tort duty owed to the public generally.
  • Proprietary. This is when a government serves a function normally taken on by a private corporation, particularly if revenue is collected. Proprietary functions are not shielded by government immunity laws.
Pre-Suit Notice and Damage Caps

Before you can proceed with a slip-and-fall lawsuit against the government, you first must provide notice to the government agency. It must be written, addressed to the correct government office, properly worded and timely sent. Failure to do so could tank your entire case. Your attorney can handle this aspect for you to ensure it meets all necessary criteria.

The Florida Department of Risk Management outlines the claims process. Notice must be given within three years of the occurrence and can’t be filed until after 180-day investigatory period, unless the claim is denied before then. Service of process must be on the proper agency.

Damages are limited to $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incidents. The only way to receive anything in excess is via the legislature’s claims bill process. If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a Miami slip-and-fall accident, please contact Gerson & Schwartz, P.A., for a free consultation. Call us today at 305-371-6000 or using our online contact form.

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