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Eleven people were killed and 22 injured resulting from a series of auto accidents in Gainesville, Florida on January 29, 2012, four years after a similar situation left five dead and 37 injured. Drivers were blinded by a combination of fog and smoke, from a nearby wildfire, that blanketed two separate interstates.

In the most recent devastation, the burned-out shells of at least 19 vehicles, including at least seven tractor-trailers stretched for over a mile. Visibility was so poor that rescuers could only locate victims by listening for moans and screams. An investigation found that the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) failed to implement changes pledged after the 2008 devastation, including training in closing and reopening a highway and clear policies on the chain of authority during incidents related to limited visibility on public roadways. Additionally, it was determined that the January 2012 series of accidents could have been avoided with better communication about the wildfire and the changing conditions that affected the roadway. To date, the Florida Highway Patrol has not been held accountable for their actions in either incident.

If policies and procedures had been implemented after the 2008 event, the FHP would not be facing over a dozen lawsuits. Injured victims and family members of the deceased contend that a failure to communicate and monitor changing conditions led to the catastrophic accidents. The highway was closed around midnight after multiple auto accidents, but reopened approximately three hours later. The suits state that once the highway was shutdown due to the fog and smoke, it never should have been reopened; the additional multi-vehicle accidents occurred within 30 minutes of reopening the highway.

State Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, said “Reports and studies and task forces don't really do any good unless we can implement the changes that have been recommended.” Has the FHP learned from this latest incident? Will they finally put mechanisms in place to monitor weather conditions, effectively communicate, and train employees on highway closure policies?

Under Florida law, victims are subject to $200,000 cap on judgments awarded against a governmental entity. Caps are inadequate when it comes to compensating a victim for a personal injury or wrongful death. Additionally, caps make it more difficult to hold the negligent wrongdoer accountable and harder to reduce the chances of others to fail victim to a similar situation. Caps on government entities only make them less accountable for their actions, less likely to address dangerous conditions, and less likely to implement change. Isn’t this obvious after the 2008 event?

Damage caps simply state that the wrongdoer will only pay a set amount, in this case $200,000, even in the most catastrophic claim. As a result, these negligent parties have little interest in putting safety over profits. When this happens, how do innocent victims survive financially when they can’t pay their bills; who is left with the burden? You, the taxpayer, that’s who. When these government entities don’t fairly compensate innocent victims, the taxpayers are left to foot the bill because liability caps shift responsibility from the private sector to the taxpayer. It is time to stop protecting corporations and government entities from liability or damages; it is time to focus on improving safety, preventing injuries, and saving lives. Lawsuits and fair compensation accomplishes that; tort reform does not. Lawsuits serve to improve safety, while tort reform weakens the ability of our civil justice system to enforce safety standards. As citizens of this country, we have the power to rise up and make a change for justice; stand up for your rights, stand up against tort reform.

Mark Bello has thirty-five years experience as a trial lawyer and thirteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Member of Public Justice and Public Citizen, Business Associate of the Florida, Mississippi, Connecticut, Texas, and Tennessee Associations for Justice, and Consumers Attorneys of California, member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.


  1. Gravatar for Vern Dennis

    It is not really damages cap - it is an exception to the Sovereign Immunity that the State (and other governmental entities) have enjoyed dating back to the English Common Law. In Florida the exception was raised recentlyh from 100/200 to 200/300, but governmental entities can chooose to purchase insurance to cover greater exposures if they wish to do so, in which case the immunity exception is raised to the level of the available insurance. Or, in the case of litigation against the State of Florida, if you can obtain a judgment in excess of $200,000, you can petition the government to approve a private appropriations bill.

    I'm of two minds about the concept of Sovereign Immunity. It is sn archaic concept, like the concepts of contributory negligence and joint & several liability, but without it the taxpayers really take it on the chin, as with the ongoing looting of the New York City as a result of juries making excessive awards because "no one likes City Hall". With NYC juries largely composed of non-tax payers, there is no one protecting the tax payer. Soverign immunity does serve that purpose

  2. Vern: it is exactly the opposite. Citizens know who pays the bill if the city gets hit. Yet, they try to do the right thing when they assume the role of "juror" and citizen at the same time. Sovereign immunity is, indeed, an archaic concept and should be abolished. If the perpetrator isn't made to pay the freight, who is left with the bill? Why, the taxpayer, of course. That is why I can't understand why the Republican Party is on the wrong side of this issue. Aren't they the "less government" party? So why are they in our courtrooms? Aren't they the "personal responsibility" party? So why do they seek to restrict the amounts that those responsible should pay? Why do they seek to shift that burden to innocent taxpayers? I don't get it, do you?

  3. Gravatar for Vern Dennis

    The taxpayers always get hit, with or without Sovereign Immunity. What Sovereign Immunity does is ensure, admittedly in a rather circuitous way, that what the taxpayers get stuck with is the actual quantifiable damages rather than quantifiable damages plus whatever anger and sympathy factors into the jury award of non-quantifiable damages. It isn't perfect, by any means but we are stuck with it.

    I wouldn't advocate the abolition of Soverign Immunity in states where it still holds sway. I can see some modifications that would make it a little more fair. Ask the citizens of New York City, if reapplication of Sovereign Immunity would make their city a better place to live. I think if you want to eliminate Sovereign Immunity entirely, you need to include a balancing provision such as "Loser Pays" as part of the end-product to eliminate the many frivilous claims a place like NYC pays because (1) the cost to defend is too high and (2) non-taxpayer citizen juries give away the taxpayers' money like it was candy

    If the American Civil Justice system (lol) were an automobile, it would be a Trabent or a Yugo.

    Philosophically, I would like to roll back the civil and criminal justice system to about 1970 (thereby retaining the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and Miranda) and start over. I doubt we could mess things up any worse.

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