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The government's liability for accidents on public property

Private individuals or companies own much of the land in Florida, but there is still a lot of property which is owned by the government and is considered public property. In previous posts we have discussed property owners' responsibilities to keep their property free of dangerous conditions which could harm the people invited onto the property. However, what happens if someone injures themselves on a dangerous condition on public property?

If a person is injured on public property the government agency which is in charge of the property may be liable for the damages just like a private owner would be liable for premises liability. However, there are limitations on the amount the victim may be able to receive in compensation. Generally the government would not be liable for any punitive damages and their liability is capped at $200,000 by statute. If the settlement or damage award is higher than that amount, the legislature would have to approve the settlement or damages before they are paid.

Also, generally individual employees cannot be personally liable for the damages caused if they were acting within the scope of their employment. The named defendant would have to be the government agency. There is an exception to this rule though. If the individual employee acted in bad faith, malice or willful disregard for other's safety, the individual employee could also be named as a defendant and could be liable for the damages they caused.

There are many great places in Florida which are public property and can be enjoyed by anyone. However, just like people have expectations that private property will be safe, they expect public property to be safe as well. If a government agency fails to keep the property free of dangerous conditions, they may be liable for the damages suffered by the victims. These are very fact specific matters though and experienced attorneys may be a useful resource.

Source: Florida State Legislature, "Florida Statute 768.28" accessed on Sept. 28, 2017

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