SEPTEMBER 13, 2015:
Without question, the majority of lawsuits filed in Florida surround private entities and individuals. However, as a personal injury attorney helping those injured in car and construction accidents, State, County, and Municipalities are sometimes to blame. For example, in highway construction car accident cases, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is frequently a defendant.
In a civil suit, a personal injury lawyer typically uncovers evidence through the discovery process. This includes requests for production of documents from the other side, depositions, as well as subpoenas for production of documents from non-parties to the lawsuit. Yet, in cases involving governmental agencies, such as the FDOT, another means of uncovering evidence is available for plaintiffs.
Pursuant to Chapter 119, Florida Statutes, records of State, County, and Municipal agencies are subject to disclosure and inspection. Specifically, under Florida Statute 119.01, “it is the policy of this state that all state, county, and municipal records are open for person inspection and copying by any person.” The Statute further comments that “providing access to public records is a duty of each agency.”
Ultimately, documents and emails generated by state and local agencies are subject to inspection and copying through a simple written request to a government representative specifying the documents sought pursuant to Chapter 119. In litigation, this documentation is equally accessible to both parties. In fact, this government evidence is available to an injured person even before a lawsuit is filed.
Essentially, Chapter 119 gives a plaintiff a head start on discovery prior to the filing of a personal injury lawsuit by his or her attorney. Equally important, in cases involving construction accidents, inspection of such records is discoverable absent litigation, which could possibly lead to information adverse to a plaintiff’s case.
Undoubtedly, the Florida Legislature’s reasoning behind enacting Chapter 119 was not entirely with litigation of personal injury cases in mind, but most likely based upon the need for transparency among government entities. Yet, those injured in car accidents, slip and falls, and other types of incidents are certainly entitled to take advantage of what the Legislature has enacted.