Floridians are very familiar with the sad story of Robert Champion, the Florida A&M drum major who died from injuries he received in a well-publicized hazing incident in Orlando. What they may not know, however, is a Florida legal concept called “sovereign immunity,” which could limit the amount of money his parents could receive in a lawsuit. Champion was fatally injured on a charter bus in Orlando while he was being hazed by fellow members in the school’s marching band, and his parents are seeking damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. For a full explanation of sovereign immunity, parents and close family members of wrongful death victims should speak to an experienced Orlando personal injury attorney. A simple explanation of sovereign immunity is that it limits the ability for people to collect wrongful death damages from several public agencies.
Sovereign immunity is based on a very old common law that claimed that “the king can do no wrong” and under Florida law, the immunity extends to public hospitals, police departments, schools and other public agencies, including state colleges and universities supported by our taxes.
However, sovereign immunity has not stopped Champion’s parents’ lawyer from proceeding with their wrongful death lawsuit. Describing an environment where hazing had been going on for many years, their attorney Christopher Chestnut said, “I’ve never had a case with such overwhelming, incriminating evidence of negligence before taking the first deposition or discovery. The facts are bad now for the university and only going to get worse. The university’s negligence (supervising the band) was gross, systematic and historic, and it was just a matter of time (before) someone would lose their life.”
He told media representatives that concerned parents had pleaded with school officials for years to end the culture of hazing in the marching band out of concern for their children’s safety. The band initiation rituals were known to be especially brutal, having resulted in serious injuries for hazing victims for many years. Chestnut claims that A&M officials either were unwilling or unable to stop the hazing and that their negligence contributed to Champion’s death. He also noted that two A&M music professors resigned under pressure after police had discovered that they had attended a party – hosted at one of the professor’s home – where hazing occurred.
That said, a jury may or may not determine that Florida A&M deserves to pay more than the liability payouts limited by sovereign immunity. According to Florida law, Champion’s parents could receive only $200,000 each per claim.
Orlando wrongful death attorney James O. Cunningham has been following developments in this sad case from the beginning and has been opposed to limits imposed by sovereign immunity in wrongful death cases since he began practicing law in 1977. If you have lost a close family member due to negligence and you have questions about your legal options and the laws that apply to your situation, call 888-425-2004 today to schedule a free consultation with Mr. Cunningham. He will answer all your questions, explain the laws in plain language, protect your rights and work hard to help you receive the fair and just compensation you deserve.
James O. Cunningham
Since 1977, personal injury lawyer James Cunningham has provided effective legal advocacy to people who are injured through the negligent actions of another person or entity throughout the Central Florida area. He fights to obtain recoveries for his clients’ physical and emotional pain and suffering and pursues his clients’ personal injury cases with a commitment to excellence and impeccable preparation.
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