Earlier this month, the Texas Supreme Court heard a case about an accident involving a government employee who was allegedly operating a government vehicle while intoxicated. The court determined that, since the plaintiff failed to name the driver of the car at the outset of the lawsuit, he was then precluded from later asking the court to name the driver as an additional defendant. This is of interest to the Florida community because the specific legal doctrines that the court applied also apply here in Florida.
In the case of Molina v. Alvarado, Alvarado was injured when Molina, a government employee, struck Alvarado while operating a city-owned vehicle while allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol. Alvarado filed suit against the City, alleging that Molina was acting as a city employee when the accident occurred and that the city should be held liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior (a legal doctrine that allows accident victims to hold an employer liable for the negligent actions of an employee).
In turn, the City asked the court to dismiss the suit against it, based on the City’s sovereign immunity. The City claimed that nothing in Alvarado’s pleadings suggested that Molina was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident.
The court agreed with the City and released it from the lawsuit. Afterwards, Alvarado attempted to name Molina individually as a defendant, although he had not done so initially. Molina claimed that Alvarado’s election to name only the City in the initial pleading constituted an irrevocable election of remedies and prevented Alvarado from later naming Molina.
Sovereign Immunity in General
Sovereign immunity is the legal principle, embodied in the United States Constitution, that grants immunity to state and local governments while they are carrying out their governmental duties. Under the doctrine, if a government employee is acting within their duties at the time of an accident, the government cannot be held liable for injuries caused as a result.
Of course, there is an exception to this general rule, and that is when the behavior of the government employee constitutes a tort, in which case immunity is waived. This is the theory that Alvarado was initially proceeding under. Since Molina, a government employee, was drunk driving at the time of the car accident, and since drunk driving is a tortious act, Alvarado argued that the city should be liable for the employee’s actions.
However, as the court pointed out, there was no indication that Molina was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident, thus removing the case from those where sovereign immunity is waived.
Have You Been Injured in an Accident with a Government Employee?
If you have been injured in an accident with a government employee, you may be entitled to monetary damages. While the above case took place in Texas, the very same principles of sovereign immunity that applied in that case apply in Florida courts, under the Florida Tort Claims Act. Therefore, if you have been injured in an accident with a government employee, you may have additional hurdles to overcome before you will be entitled to recover for your injuries. It is advised that anyone considering filing suit against the state or local government in Florida consult with one of the dedicated attorneys at the Dean Law Firm prior to proceeding. By consulting with a skilled advocate, you will be better informed early on about what hurdles you may face prior to recovery. Call 352-387-8700 today to set up a free consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Tragic Florida Van Accident Claims 8 Lives, Injures 10 Others, Ocala Injury Lawyers Blog, published April 3, 2015.
Walgreen’s Pharmacy Facing Several Claims of Pharmacy Errors, Ocala Injury Lawyers Blog, published May 18, 2015.