Mayor Rhett Bullard continually feels that councilors are immune from all Liability….but that immunity is LIMITED AND establishes the limits by which the councilors may be immune.. The State Legislature provides limited sovereign immunity by establishing specific limits by which the Town of White Springs may be sued.
The Town of White Springs by Legislation effective July 1, 1974 provides limited Sovereign Immunity, also known as crown immunity.
Until 1974, a legal doctrine was applicable whereby a sovereign or government entity cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune from civil suits or criminal prosecution. Basically the Town prior to 1974 would be immune from lawsuits or other legal actions excepts when it consents to them. Historically, this was an absolute doctrinal position that held Federal, State and local governments immune from any tort liability arising from the activities of government. These days, the application of sovereign immunity is much less clear-cut, as different governments have waived liability in differing degrees under differing circumstances.
The statute which pertains to the maximum limit allowable under the tort claims against a government entity, including the Town of White Springs, is as follows:
(5) The state and its agencies and subdivisions shall be liable for tort claims in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances, but liability shall not include punitive damages or interest for the period before judgment.
Neither the state nor its agencies or subdivisions shall be liable to pay a claim or a judgment by any one person which exceeds the sum of $200,000 or any claim or judgment, or portions thereof, which, when totaled with all other claims or judgments paid by the state or its agencies or subdivisions arising out of the same incident or occurrence, exceeds the sum of $300,000.
However, a judgment or judgments may be claimed and rendered in excess of these amounts and may be settled and paid pursuant to this act up to $200,000 or $300,000, as the case may be; and that portion of the judgment that exceeds these amounts may be reported to the Legislature, but may be paid in part or in whole only by further act of the Legislature.
Notwithstanding the limited waiver of sovereign immunity provided herein, the state or an agency or subdivision thereof may agree, within the limits of insurance coverage provided, to settle a claim made or a judgment rendered against it without further action by the Legislature, but the state or agency or subdivision thereof shall not be deemed to have waived any defense of sovereign immunity or to have increased the limits of its liability as a result of its obtaining insurance coverage for tortious acts in excess of the $200,000 or $300,000 waiver provided above.
The limitations of liability set forth in this subsection shall apply to the state and its agencies and subdivisions whether or not the state or its agencies or subdivisions possessed sovereign immunity before July 1, 1974.
- This is a perplexing problem in the least for those individual members, employees and volunteers of the Town. In the event of an occurrence of Bodily Injury including death and Property Damage, the individual members do not have such sovereign immunity personally and may be sued personally as well as for punitive damages (damages exceeding simple compensation and awarded to punish the defendant). Punitive or exemplary damages are excluded by statute and would have to be paid outside of the limits provided under the limited sovereign immunity of the Town, by the individuals who committed what may be considered a malicious act. The Trust under which the Town is insured, in its sole discretion may investigate, settle, coordinate the defense of claims or counts whether suits which may not be expressly covered by this Agreement,
Similar to all insurance policies there are exclusions for which the “Trust” would not have to provide coverage. Some of these exclusions under the General Liability policy include but are not limited to:
- Willful violation of any federal, state, or local law, ordinance or regulation committed by or with the knowledge or consent of any member or violation of public trust.
- fines, punitive or exemplary damages or any non-compensatory damages or penalties imposed pursuant to any federal or state anti-trust, civil rights, anti-discrimination or racketeer influence and control organization (RICCO) laws;
- to any claim, demand or action seeking injunctive, declaratory, writ of mandamus or any other non-monetary relief against a designated member or any of its agents;
- to any injury arising out of any act committed by the member with actual malice;
Exclusions – auto exclusion except parking an auto on the premises; racing speed or demolition exclusion; mobile equipment used in racing, demolition, etc the operation of a trailer used with mobile equipment; amusement devices; water theme parks, watercraft over 35 feet ;law enforcement watercraft over 52 feet; passengers of watercraft, barge lighters,etc; aircraft exclusion except the exclusion doesn’t apply to parked aircraft on a premises; contaminants exclusion; lead exclusion; surface or subsurface degradation and deterioration; war exclusion, other insurance exclusion SS, WC, employers liability, unemployment or disability, contractual liability except incidental contracts; Property damage to property of members; property damage to premises alienated; loss of use of tangible property; products exclusion; completed operations exclusion; any act, error or omission by a member committed while acting outside the scope of his employment; unentitled remuneration; willful violation of any federal, state, or local law, ordinance or regulation committed by or with the knowledge or consent of any member or violation of public trust.
Also excluded operation of the principles of eminent domain, condemnation proceedings, inverse condemnation or takings law EXCEPT inverse condemnation or claims arising from Ch. 95-181 Bert Harris Act Laws of FL.; rendering or failure to render professional services; failure to supply utilities or services of a designated member; failure to supply quality of power, steam, pressure or fuel; violations of ERISA;; inadequacies of water flow, dam, dyke ditches, gates, sewers, water sheds, channels, culverts or drains; fines, punitive or exemplary damages or any non-compensatory damages or penalties imposed pursuant to any federal or state anti-trust, civil rights, anti-discrimination or racketeer influence and control organization (RICCO) laws; damages because of special acts of the legislature; nuclear energy liability exclusion; to personal injury publications or utterances claims prior to coverage date; errors and omissions; to any claim, demand or action seeking injunctive, declaratory, writ of mandamus or any other non-monetary relief against a designated member or any of its agents; liquor liability exclusion EXCE[T serving alcoholic beverages without charge at public functions; Sexual action exclusion except for Bodily Injury or Personal Injury coverage;
These types of exclusions may constitute a lack of coverage on the part of the “Trust” even though defense may be provided. Unfortunately if Members individually are found to have caused such torts or criminal acts, they may have to find their own respective attorneys and be subject to punitive or exemplary damages. Helen Miller’s case involves Personal Injury (i.e., slander, libel and defamation of character).
Karin for the blog