Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. // Sovereign Immunity Strikes Again — Not Good!!!

scales-of-justice-300x203We just received a telephone call from a heartbroken mother whose 47-year old daughter died a few years ago after falling into a diabetic coma. A well-being, or safety check, call was made to the local police department a day after the young woman phoned to inform her employer that she wasn’t feeling well. A law enforcement officer went to her home that day, but her parents believe that the officer failed to take appropriate actions as her car was in the driveway and the windows of her home were open even though it was raining. The officer did not make contact with the woman or attempt to go into the home. She was found deceased in her home two days later. The mother believes her daughter was incapacitated but alive at the time of the safety call and could have been rescued if she had been discovered then and emergency care rendered.

Case law supports the bringing of a lawsuit against the police department. Unfortunately, sovereign immunity makes it a case that few, if any, lawyers are willing to undertake. We were not the first lawyers the mother called. The others turned her down. So did we. The reason why is because the risks and costs associated with litigating the case far outweigh the potential recovery of $200,000. Regardless of a case’s merit, because of sovereign immunity and the relatively minor consequence of a loss, government entities tend to fight every claim hard to discourage otherwise legitimate efforts.

A case against the police department could be brought under the so-called common law “undertaker’s doctrine:”

[i]n every situation where a man undertakes to act, or to pursue a particular course, he is under an implied legal obligation or duty to act with reasonable care, to the end that the person or property of others may not be injured by any force which he sets in operation, or by any agent for which he is responsible. If he fails to exercise the degree of caution which the law requires in a particular situation, he is held liable for any damage that results to another, just as if he had bound himself by an obligatory promise to exercise the required degree of care…. [E]ven “where a man interferes gratuitously, he is bound to act in a reasonable and prudent manner according to the circumstances and opportunities of the case.

Banfield v. Addington, 104 Fla. 661, 140 So. 893, 896 (1932) (citations omitted) (emphasis supplied) (citing 1 Thomas A. Street, Foundations of Legal Liability 92 (1906)) (quoting Flint & Walling Mfg. Co. v. Beckett, 167 Ind. 491, 79 N.E. 503, 506 (1906)). In Union Park Memorial Chapel v. Hutt, 670 So.2d 64 (Fla.1996), the Florida Supreme Court reasoned:

It is clearly established that one who undertakes to act, even when under no obligation to do so, thereby becomes obligated to act with reasonable care. See Slemp v. City of North Miami, 545 So.2d 256 (Fla.1989) (holding that even if city had no general duty to protect property owners from flooding due to natural causes, once city has undertaken to provide such protection, it assumes the responsibility to do so with reasonable care); Banfield v. Addington, 104 Fla. 661, 667, 140 So. 893, 896 (1932) (holding that one who undertakes to act is under an implied legal duty to act with reasonable care to ensure that the person or property of others will not be injured as a result of the undertaking); Kowkabany v. Home Depot, Inc., 606 So.2d 716, 721 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992) (holding that by undertaking to safely load landscaping timbers into vehicle, defendant owed duty of reasonable care to bicyclist who was struck by timbers protruding from vehicle window); Garrison Retirement Home v. Hancock, 484 So.2d 1257, 1262 (Fla. 4th DCA 1985) (holding that retirement home that assumed and undertook care and supervision of retirement home resident owed duty to third party to exercise reasonable care in supervision of resident’s activities). As this Court recognized over sixty years ago in Banfield v. Addington, “[i]n every situation where a man undertakes to act, … he is under an implied legal obligation or duty to act with reasonable care, to the end that the person or property of others may not be injured.” 104 Fla. at 667, 140 So. at 896….

Voluntarily undertaking to do an act that if not accomplished with due care might increase the risk of harm to others or might result in harm to others due to their reliance upon the undertaking confers a duty of reasonable care, because it thereby “creates a foreseeable zone of risk.” McCain v. Florida Power Corp., 593 So.2d 500 (Fla.1992); Kowkabany, 606 So.2d at 720-21….

Id. at 66-67 (emphasis supplied) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324A (1965) in omitted portion).

The “undertaker’s doctrine” applies to both governmental and nongovernmental entities. Clay Elec. v Johnson, 873 So.2d 1182, 1186 (Fla., 2003).

It is undisputed that the police department affirmatively and specifically undertook to check on the 47-year old woman. Friends and family reasonably relied on law enforcement to do so responsibly. If the case proceeded to trial, challenging questions regarding the reasonableness of law enforcement’s efforts and whether it would have made a difference will be asked among others.


Contact us at 305-758-4900 or by email to learn your legal rights.

Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.

While prompt resolution of your legal matter is our goal, our approach is fundamentally different. Our clients are “people” and not “cases” or “files.” We take the time to build a relationship with our clients, realizing that only through meaningful interaction can we best serve their needs. In this manner, we have been able to best help those requiring legal representation.

DISCLAIMER: This information provided by Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is for informational purposes only and is intended to be used as a non-legal guide prior to consultation with an attorney familiar with your specific legal situation. It should not be considered legal advice or counseling. No such legal advice or counseling is either expressly or impliedly intended. This  information is not a substitute for the advice or counsel of an attorney. If you require legal advice, you should seek the services of an attorney.

Contact Information