A catastrophic car accident involving a Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) truck left one man paralyzed and resulted in a $120 million verdict against the City of Gainesville.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at what happened, and we’ll explain the obstacles and limitations you may face when suing a local government for an injury.
William Storman was driving a GRU truck south on 115th Terrace Road in Gainesville, Florida. At the same time, Hank Blackwell was driving a GMC Sierra west on 39th Avenue.
As the 2 vehicles approached the intersection at 115th Terrace Road and 39th Avenue, Storman failed to observe the stop sign and ultimately collided with Blackwell’s GMC Sierra.
Jacob Rodgers, a 20-year-old passenger in the GMC Sierra, was paralyzed as a result of the crash and was taken to the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital.
The lawsuit: Rodgers v. City of Gainesville
Jacob filed a personal injury lawsuit against the City of Gainesville, which owns Gainesville Regional Utilities, a multi-service utility.
The lawsuit alleged that William Storman was negligent for failing to stop at the stop sign on 115th Terrace Road and that his negligence caused Jacob’s injuries.
The City of Gainesville argued that Hank was partially at fault for the accident because he was speeding at the time of the crash. What’s more, the City of Gainesville argued that Jacob Rodgers was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident and his injuries would have been less severe if he had been.
After a short trial, jurors in the 8th Judicial Circuit of Florida found that William Storman was 100% at fault for the car crash that paralyzed Jacob Rodgers.
The jury issued a $120 million verdict, which included more than $16 million for medical expenses that Rodgers had already incurred and more than $103 million for future expenses and losses.
“We are pleased that we were able to win justice for Jacob, who was 10 days shy of his 21st birthday when he was paralyzed for the rest of his life,” Rodgers’s attorney said in a statement issued after the verdict.
Unfortunately for Rodgers, Florida Statute 768.28 limits the amount of damages an individual can receive from the government to $200,000.
A claim for any amount over $200,000 must be approved by the Florida Legislature.
What do I need to know about suing the government
Suing the government isn’t as simple as suing a private individual or company for 2 primary reasons.
First, before suing the government, you must provide the government with notice. This “notice of claim” must be submitted in writing within 3 years of the date of the accident.
You can obtain a notice of claim form from the Florida Division of Risk Management.
Once you submit a notice of claim, a 180-day investigation period will commence. Only until that period ends (unless the claim is formally denied earlier) can you file a lawsuit.
Second, certain claims are barred and some damages are capped under the doctrine of sovereign immunity.
Some states have abolished sovereign immunity, while other states have limited sovereign immunity so that it only applies in certain narrow situations.
In Florida, the government can be sued for torts in which the state’s employees injure or kill someone. However, the amount of damages that can be recovered is capped at $200,000 in most cases.
Before you take the significant step of suing a local government, it’s important to talk to an attorney who has experience litigating these types of lawsuits.