As a Miami accident attorney, Uninsured Motorist Insurance is without question the most important insurance drivers can buy in Florida to protect them and their families in the event they are involved in a traffic accident. UM is designed and sold to pay people who have been involved in traffic accidents either in cars, trucks, on bicycles, or even crossing the street, when the driver who caused the accident either has no insurance or not enough to compensate the victim.
Many have asked Miami accident attorneys, “What happens when a car crash is caused by a police officer, sheriff, or another person acting in an official capacity as a governmental agent or employee?” Recently, a Florida man, Scott Christopher Siergiej, was severely injured in his back and ankle while he was working, when a motorcycle operated by a Lee County Florida Sheriff collided with him.
Fortunately—or not—Mr. Siergiej had purchased Uninsured Motorist coverage from State Farm. Lee County, like virtually every other governmental agency in Florida, enjoys protection from legal liability based upon the ancient legal concept known as sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is derived from our legal ancestors in England at a time when the Crown or King could commit all sorts of atrocities upon their subjects without consequence. Somehow this medieval legal concept has survived the test of time and arguments by personal injury lawyers in Miami, and it continues to provide caps on damages and other legal protections when negligence is committed by public schools, hospitals like Jackson Memorial Hospital and the Broward Hospital District, the Department of Children and Family Services, Florida’s Department of Transportation, Florida’s Department of Corrections, and of course all state, county, and city law-enforcement agencies.
Florida’s Sovereign Immunity Statute Section 768
- Limits claims against governmental agencies to a maximum amount of $200,000 per person.
- Requires claims be submitted in writing within three years of the incident
- Gives the governmental agency six months of investigation period before any lawsuit can be filed.
Mr. Siergiej settled his motorcycle accident injury claim with the Sheriff’s department for $50,000 (at that time the cap was only $100,000), with State Farm’s permission. He then sued State Farm for his uninsured motorist coverage benefits, which they failed to pay.
State Farm refused to pay the $100,000 UM benefits he claimed, and the case went to trial, where a jury returned a verdict for $211,000. At that point, State Farm claimed that it was entitled to an offset from the verdict for the following reasons:
- State Farm wanted credit, or an offset, for the full sovereign cap of $100,000 even though the Sheriff paid $50,000.
- State Farm wanted credit for $13,101 for the property damage the Sheriff had paid.
- State Farm wanted credit for $26,780 paid by Mr. Siergiej’s worker’s compensation insurance for medical bills.
- State Farm wanted credit for $20,000 in lost wages, which was less than the $44,930 actually paid by worker’s compensation.
- State Farm wanted credit for $5,000 paid in PIP or personal injury protection.
The trial court, with no explanation, denied State Farm’s request for a reduction and summarily ordered it to pay the victim $100,000. An appeal followed to Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal, which ruled the following:
- State Farm is entitled to an offset only from the actual amount of the underlying settlement by waiving its right to subrogation, or in other words by State Farm’s agreeing to the settlement with the Sheriff for less than the available $100,000, and thereby losing its right to benefit from the full offset.
- State Farm is entitled to an offset or credit for the amount paid in medical expenses and paid lost wages, for the $5,000 in PIP benefits, and the $50,000 actually paid by the Sheriff.
As a Miami car accident lawyer and possible claimant, this is an important case because it clarifies the responsibilities and obligations that car insurance companies have in paying out Uninsured Motorist claims, when accidents are caused by a governmental agency. It also serves as a reminder to lawyers who handle traffic accident claims against uninsured or underinsured drivers to always obtain in writing the waiver of subrogation, or authority of the UM insurance company, to accept a settlement, especially if settling for less than the policy limits. And most importantly, it shows how essential it is to obtain uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage if you drive in Florida.
If you are a family member get hit by a car, truck, bicycle, or motorcycle, please Email me, Spencer Aronfeld, a Miami personal injury attorney or call our South Florida personal injury lawyers for a free initial consultation at 305-441-0440 or Toll Free: 866-597-4529. Our personal injury law firms in Miami are available to answer your questions, and we are passionate about helping accident victims. We are experienced in holding insurance companies accountable to pay the full value of claims for lost wages, medical expenses, property damage, and pain and suffering.