City of Winter Park v. Veigle
6/27/23, Justice Kagan
Topics: Sovereign Immunity
An officer from the Winter Park Police Department got into a car accident while driving home from work. The other driver involved in the accident sued the City of Winter Park (“Winter Park”), alleging that the city was vicariously liable for the officer’s purportedly negligent driving. Winter Park moved for summary judgment on sovereign immunity grounds, arguing that the officer was not acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred. The trial court denied summary judgment, finding there was a question of fact. Winter Park appealed. Orders on sovereign immunity are authorized for immediate interlocutory appeal.
While the officer’s affidavit stated that “part of his employment” was that he was assigned “a take-home patrol vehicle to drive to and from work and during each shift,” the DCA held that driving to and from work was not in the officer’s scope of employment. Merely driving a government-owned vehicle, which the government has authorized for personal use, does not transform an otherwise off- the-clock government employee into one acting within the scope of his employment. Neither did the fact that he was still in uniform even though his job required him to drive the patrol car in uniform, not in civilian clothes. He was done with work and heading home.
Section 768, 28(9)(a), Fla. Stat. (2019), provides that the state or its subdivisions are not liable for torts committed by employees outside the course and scope of their employment or committed in bad faith or with malicious purpose or in a manner exhibiting wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety, or property. In any given situation, either the government or the employee can incur liability, but not both. And the court has to act as a gatekeeper to stop claims barred by sovereign immunity from going to trial. REVERSED AND REMANDED.