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On September 24, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Department of Financial Services in a case involving questions of statutory interpretation and financial liability for the state in Barnett v. State of Florida, Department of Financial Services.
Dean Mead attorneys Peter Dunbar, Marc Dunbar, Daniel Russell, and Will Hall represented the Department in that suit, and used their combined decades of legislative and litigation experience to help the Department achieve this consequential victory.
In Barnett v. State of Florida, Department of Financial Services, the Florida Supreme Court was asked to interpret the state’s sovereign immunity restrictions. Florida law limits a person’s recovery for state-inflicted damages at $200,000 for all injuries or deaths “arising out of the same incident or occurrence.” (See Section 768.28(5), Florida Statutes.)
Barnett raised the question of whether that monetary cap applied to circumstances where a single event led to multiple injuries or deaths.
The Court affirmed the argument, which the Dean Mead attorneys advanced in their written briefs and made again by attorney Peter Dunbar during oral arguments, that the cap applied even when multiple injuries and/or deaths occurred.
The Court agreed that the plain wording of the statute, as well as the context around the phrase “same incident or occurrence,” showed that it refers to the injury-causing event and that the event does not become multiple “incidents” or “occurrences” because there are multiple victims. This is especially true in light of the legal precedent that sovereign immunity statutes must be construed narrowly in favor of the state.
The underlying facts of Barnett are inconceivably awful, and despite the caps on the state’s sovereign immunity limits, the Dean Mead attorneys highlighted in their arguments the proper legal avenue for injured parties to seek compensation above the $200,000 cap. During oral arguments, Peter Dunbar noted the legislative claims bill process, which allows such victims to receive additional compensation while ensuring that the state can avoid repeated, catastrophic financial judgments.
The Court agreed with this argument, stating that nothing in the order would prevent the Plaintiffs from seeking a claims bill through the legislative process.
Although this case dealt with sovereign immunity, Peter Dunbar noted that the legal principles that the order hinged upon have wide application.
“Many cases that reach the Florida Supreme Court or the state’s other courts involve a question of statutory interpretation,” Dunbar said. “Our team’s diverse experience in the legal and legislative process give us the experience and knowledge to inform effective arguments for how a statute should be applied.”
The Dean Mead governmental relations team’s experience extends further to helping clients from around the state and country effectively interpret contracts, state administrative rules, and other agreements or regulations affecting a person’s rights or responsibilities. For more information please visit our website deanmead.com.