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Florida Fourth DCA rules that in the absence of a physical injury, case alleging plaintiffs’ mental anguish caused by police officers’ negligent handling of a dead body was barred because the defendant police department was immune from liability forwillful or wanton conduct of its employees

On April 7, 2021, in Sharkey, et al. v. Hallandale Beach Police Department, et al, No. 4D20-1602, the Florida Fourth DCA affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of an action for mental anguish based on allegedly negligent handling by the Hallandale Police Department of a dead body. The trial court reasoned that (1) an action for mental anguish based on negligent handling of a dead body required proof of either physical injury or willful or wanton misconduct, (2) the plaintiffs failed to allege any physical injury, and (3) the defendants had sovereign immunity from liability for the willful or wanton conduct of its employees. In affirming the trial court’s ruling, the Fourth DCA cited Gonzalez v. Metro. Dade Cnty. Pub. Health Tr., 651 So. 2d 673, 676 (Fla. 1995) (“An action for mental anguish based on negligent handling of a dead body requires proof of either physical injury or willful or wanton misconduct. . . . The Gonzalezes alleged no physical impact or physical injury and conceded that the hospital’s acts were not willful. However, even assuming that the hospital’s actions were willful, Jackson Memorial Hospital, as a county-owned hospital, is immune from liability for a willful, wanton or malicious conduct claim against one of its employees.”).

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