Compensation cap: Why are public agencies that make million-dollar mistakes only liable for a fraction in Florida?

8 On Your Side

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — 8 On Your Side broke the story Wednesday of a negligence lawsuit filed against the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. It comes after the agency determined a deputy was speeding for no good reason and wound up severely hurting a man on a bike.

Pinellas County Deputy Jared Toro hit Steve Greninger in March as the 62-year-old crossed Gulf to Bay Boulevard in Clearwater. An internal investigation later deemed the accident “preventable” because, according to a PCSO memo obtained by 8 On Your Side, Toro was speeding with no lights and no sirens during a non-emergency.

Toro faced a 10-day suspension but Greninger, who doesn’t have health insurance, remains in a rehabilitation facility. According to his attorney Mark Roman, he’s racked up roughly a million dollars in medical bills already.

“The law is not very friendly to people who get hurt by government agencies,” Roman said.

The deputy may have made a million-dollar lapse in judgment but, according to state law, PCSO is only liable for a fraction of that. That’s because even though Florida law waives sovereign immunity to allow victims to sue public entities for negligence that causes injury or death, compensation in those lawsuits is capped at $200,000.

Roman says that barely covers medical expenses in catastrophic cases, let alone take care of you if you can no longer work or if you need long-term care.

“We can only measure justice in this kind of injury with money,” he said. “Money pays for the medical bills, pays for the inability to work and it measures the loss in human toll.”

Roman hopes to take Greninger’s case to trial. But even if a jury awards more than $200,000 in damages, they still won’t be able to collect.

Instead, under Florida law, Roman will have to petition the legislature to authorize the payment in what’s known as a “claim bill.” Only then would the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office have to pay, a law that Roman believes needs to change.

“It’s a tough road to go, but it’s the road we’re on,” he said.

Getting a claim bill in front of the legislature is not an easy task. Only two were passed during the 2020 legislative session.

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