An Orange County Sheriff’s deputy ignored a red light while transporting an inmate; the ensuing collision injured two people.

The crash occurred at the intersection of Delaney Avenue and Michigan Street. According to witnesses, the deputy was operating with lights on and siren off when he proceeded directly through a red light and smashed almost head-on into a silver Toyota. First responders placed both the inmate in the back seat and the silver Toyota driver in neck braces before transporting them to an area hospital; the deputy was no hurt.

Authorities had no other details and a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said the agency was “still investigating all of that.”

Officer-Involved Crashes

Statistically, many more officers are killed in traffic collisions than die due to firearms. According to some, distracted driving is one of the leading causes. Most patrol cars have laptop computer-type instruments with large screens that feed a near-constant stream of information, as well as flashing LED indicators that demand the officer’s attention. Additionally, hands-free electronic devices are often more distracting than hand-held devices. The distractions are even worse when officers are transporting prisoners, because they must be watched constantly and are often uncooperative.

In many departments, officers face little or no discipline in these matters, so they have little or no incentive to focus on the road. But the same dangers apply. At 55mph, drivers travel the length of a football field while sending or reading even brief three or four-word messages.

If they involve serious injuries, damages in distracted driving-related car crash cases involve compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as loss of consortium (companionship).

Suing the Government

Most governmental units, including Florida, have waived their sovereign immunity, at least in some cases. Sovereign immunity is the ancient principle that governments and government workers cannot be sued for negligence. In most cases, damages are capped at either $200,000 or $300,00, and the victims must file a notice of claim with the municipality or other government agency that either was negligent or employed the tortfeasor (negligent actor) within two or three years.

The waiver of sovereign immunity applies to governmental functions that require at least some official discretion, like driving a motor vehicle, which also result in injury or death. In most cases, the government cannot be sued for not putting up a stoplight or for the adverse economic effects of a zoning ordinance. But if the complained-of act was a nondiscretionary ministerial function, a lawsuit may be possible. Some examples include:

  • Not providing medical care to inmates,
  • Failure to provide services, like 9-1-1 or utilities, and
  • Not properly maintaining signage or infrastructure.

Safely transporting an inmate to jail or a court hearing is arguably, although certainly not necessarily, a ministerial function that involves little or no discretion.

Rely on Experienced Attorneys

The government may be liable for damages, in some situations. For a free consultation with a seasoned personal injury attorney in Orlando, contact Reed & Reed. We do not charge upfront legal fees in personal injury cases. From our office in Brandon, the attorneys at Reed & Reed help clients in Tampa, New Tampa, Plant City, East Hillsborough County and throughout the state of Florida.