FAILED CLAIMS BILLS REVIVED
An article by Bill Kaczor of the ASSOCIATED PRESS published in the December 19, 2011 edition of FLORIDA TODAY reports the following updates on the following Florida bills:
They are among several high-profile claims bills lawmakers will consider in the session that begins Jan. 10 . One measure would benefit Eric Brody, who suffered brain damage and paralysis when he was 18 after a speeding Broward County sheriffs deputy running late to work crashed into his car in 1998. He is seeking more than $15 million under Florida law, a government agency cant pay an individual lawsuit award or claim for more than $200,000 without approval of the Legislature and governor.
Another is for William Dillon, who spent 27 years in prison for a Brevard County murder he didnt commit. He is seeking more than $810,000. Both are top priorities for Senate President Mike Haridopolos. The Senate passed each during the final week of the 2011 session in May before going to the House. Brody, who requires a wheelchair and has a severe speech impediment, waited with his parents in the House gallery into the wee hours of the sessions last day for a roll call that never happened. "It was like he didnt exist and the bill didnt exist," said Chuck Brody, Erics father. "We were not told why." Haridopolos, who was near tears after the House adjourned without acting, doesnt want that to happen again. The Merritt Island Republican says he expects the Senate to again pass both bills on the first day of the 60-day 2012 session, and again send them to the House. "Well give it to them with 59 days to spare so there will be plenty of time if they choose to take them up," Haridopolos said. "My strategy is pretty straightforward. Its the right thing to do." Bills also have been filed for the parents of Florida State University football player Devaughn Darling, who died in February 2001 of apparent cardiac arrhythmia after a workout, and 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman, a recent Florida State graduate who was serving as an undercover informant for Tallahassee police when she was fatally shot during a botched drug sting in 2008. Other measures would compensate parents for the death of Jean A. Pierre Kamel, a 13-year-old Palm Beach County boy who was shot ftlinein front of his school by another teen, and Franklin Weekl ey, whose body was discovered when workers demolished a neighboring building two years after he vanished from a state facility for the mentally handicapped in the Panhandle town of Marianna.These emotion- packed bills that would compensate two men whose lives were turned upside down by governmental mistakes will get another chance during Floridas 2012 legislative session after the measures died in the frantic final hours of the 2011 session.
Bills also have been filed on behalf of more than 300 men whove alleged they were physically and sexually abused at a Marianna reform school when they were boys, and Brian Pitts, an unpaid lobbyist for a group called Justice-2-Jesus, for an allegedly illegal one-year jail sentence he received for practicing law without a license.
Ordinarily, governments cannot be sued under the common law principle of sovereign immunity. Florida, though, has a limited waiver that allows payments of up to $200,000 per person or $300,000 per incident under a law that went into effect Oct. 1. Before then the limits were $100,000 per person and $200,000 per event. Any compensation beyond those limits requires passage of a claims bill. Most have to be filed for many years before they are considered.
While the Brody and Dillon bills are high priorities for Haridopolos hes personally sponsoring the latter they rank much lower for House Speaker Dean Cannon. The Winter Park Republican said lawmakers should focus first on issues that affect all Floridians such as the state budget, but added that hell try to accommodate Haridopolos.
Cannon said the Dillon bill did not get a floor vote last session because it never had a committee hearing in the House. As for the Brody bill, he said lawmakers just ran out of time. The Senate, meanwhile, refused to pass unrelated legislation favored by the House in the waning hours, but Haridopolos wouldnt say whether he thought there was a connection. "We cant go back in time, and were not going back in time," he said. "I think these bills stand on their own quite well. Im not going to negotiate for them." Some lawmakers are philosophically opposed to claims bills. That includes Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who is in line to become Senate president next November. He votes against most claims bills but made an exception for Dillons.
"The claims bill process depends on how hard the biscuits were that morning at breakfast," Gaetz said. "It depends upon how good your lobbyist is and how much he gets paid and how well connected he is. It doesnt depend on the merits of the case necessarily."
A jury awarded Brody nearly $31 million, but a bill (SB 4) sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, would authorize only half $15.6 million. A companion bill (HB 445) in the House calls for the full amount.
Even the lower amount would be one of the largest claims bills ever, but it wouldnt cost taxpayers anything. The Broward County Sheriffs Office has agreed to sign over to the Brody family its right to file a "bad faith" claim against the sheriffs insurance company for the authorized amount.
That claim would allege Ranger Insurance Co. repeatedly refused to settle for the policy limit of $3 million before the Brodys lawsuit against the sheriffs office resulted in a verdict 10 times that amount.
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