Making an Injury Claim Against the Government in Florida

What if your injuries were caused by the action of a government entity or employee in Florida?

Updated by , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 5/13/2024

In Florida, as in every state, if you're injured because of someone else's carelessness or negligence—in a car accident or a slip and fall, for example—you can usually just file a personal injury lawsuit in court. But what if it was a city bus that rear-ended you, or what if that broken linoleum you tripped on was in a state-owned building?

Claimants injured by the negligence of the Florida government or one of its employees will need to play by a different set of rules, at least initially, in order to get compensation for their losses.

What Is the Florida Tort Claims Act?

State governments are entitled to "immunity" from most kinds of liability, meaning you can't usually just file a lawsuit against a state. But every state has also passed laws that essentially waive this immunity in certain situations, including when the fault of the government or one of its employees causes harm.

These laws (often called "tort claims acts") open the door for residents of the state and others to get compensation caused by the wrongful action of the government. (Note: The legal term "tort" covers most kinds of harmful conduct, whether accidental or intentional.)

Florida's version of a tort claims act can be found at Florida Stat. section 768.28, which allows the filing of claims for compensation when the negligent or wrongful action (or inaction) of any government employee (acting "within the scope of their office or employment") causes:

Does Florida's Tort Claims Act Apply to Injury Claims Against a City or County In Florida?

Yes. Florida's structure of government is somewhat unique, in that counties are considered "subdivisions" of the state. And the tort claims act itself defines "state agencies or subdivisions" to include "counties and municipalities," like cities and towns. So, the government liability that the tort claims act opens up at the state level also applies to Florida's cities and counties. (Florida Stat. section 768.28(2).)

What Kinds of Claims Are Allowed Under the Florida Tort Claims Act?

The state's tort claims act says that the government can be liable for harm caused by a government employee (who's acting within the scope of their duty at the time), in any situation where the state, agency, or subdivision, if it were a private person, would be liable to the claimant.

So, a person who is injured by the government or a government employee in Florida (whether at the state or local level) may file a claim and ask for compensation from the government over, for example:

  • a slip and fall or other accident on government property
  • medical malpractice committed by a health care provider who's employed by a state or county-owned hospital, or
  • a car accident caused by a government employee while on duty.

Are There Caps on Damages Under the Florida Tort Claims Act?

Yes. The act puts a limit or "cap" on compensable losses ("damages") available to a claimant. Under Florida Stat. section 768.28(5)(a):

  • no claimant can receive more than $200,000 in a single claim or judgment against the government, and
  • the government can't be made to pay more than $300,000 for all claims or judgments "arising out of the same incident or occurrence" (so for example, after an accident involving a city bus where dozens of people are hurt, the total of all claims can't exceed $300,000).

In rare situations, it might be possible for a claimant to receive compensation above and beyond these caps, but approval from the state legislature is necessary.

A few more things to keep in mind when it comes to the kinds of compensation claimants can receive under the Florida Tort Claims Act:

  • Punitive damages can't be collected against the government under the act.
  • Interest that might have accrued between the claimed harm and any settlement/judgment can't be awarded under the act.

How Do I File a Florida Tort Claims Act Case?

If you think your injury or other harm was caused by the negligence of the government or one of its employees in Florida, you must put the agency involved (and the state's Department of Financial Services) on notice of the claim, in writing.

According to the Department of Financial Services Risk Management Division, there's no required form for submitting a tort claim in writing. You can simply write a letter including:

  • the date of the incident
  • the facts that led to your injury or other harm, and
  • details of the losses you've suffered (the nature and extent of your injuries, any property damage repair estimates, etc.)

You can also use one of the optional claim forms available from the Risk Management Division. If your claim is against a city or county in Florida, check their official website or do an online search and see if they've got claim forms available.

Special filing rules might apply to cases filed against law enforcement officers or agencies, public health agencies (including public hospitals), and the Florida Space Agency.

What's the Deadline for Filing a Florida Tort Claims Act Case?

You'll need to put the government of notice of a claim for injury or property damage within three years of the occurrence of the underlying incident. Notice of a claim for wrongful death must be filed within two years of the incident that caused the death.

What Happens After the Notice of Claim In Florida?

Typically, the government will review the notice of claim and decide whether to pay the claim (by offering a settlement) or deny it. You should hear a response either way within a few months.

Under the terms of the Florida tort claims act, no lawsuit can be filed against the government until after a 180-day investigation period, unless the claim is formally denied before then. But once the investigation period ends, if you haven't received an official response to your claim, or if it's been denied, you're free to file a lawsuit against the government in Florida.

Remember that the caps on damages we discussed earlier will apply to any lawsuit filed in court.

Note: Inmates of the Florida Department of Corrections have one year to give written notice of their claim and three years in which to file the lawsuit itself, in most cases.

Getting Help With an Injury Claim Against the Government In Florida

If your injuries were fairly minor and you're comfortable handling the "notice of claim" requirement, you don't always need a lawyer's help with a claim against the government in Florida. But if the government has already denied your claim, or if you'd just rather hand everything off to an experienced professional at the outset, hiring a lawyer could be the right move. Learn more about when you need a lawyer for a personal injury claim, and get tips on finding the right injury lawyer.

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