Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday signed a claims bill that will provide $10.75 million to a Broward County man who suffered debilitating injuries in a 1998 car crash with a sheriff’s deputy, ending a long-running legal and political battle about the case, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.
Scott’s approval of compensating Eric Brody came as he also signed eight other claims bills. They included a proposal to compensate the parents of murdered Tallahassee police informant Rachel Hoffman and a proposal to provide $15 million for the care of a boy who was born in Lee County with cerebral palsy.
Scott also vetoed one claims bill (HB 697), which would have provided $1.4 million to Donald Brown, who needed a leg amputation after his motorcycle was hit in 2004 by a Sumter County school bus.
In a veto message, Scott said the $1.4 million was more than a Senate special master had recommended. Also, he noted that the school system would have to pay $500,000 of the amount, with an insurance policy paying the rest.
“While I deeply regret the injuries suffered by Mr. Brown, the needs of the children of Sumter County must be weighed against the size of this award,” Scott said in the message.
Approval of the Brody claims bill (SB 4) comes after years of fighting in courtrooms and the Legislature. With Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, pushing to help the brain-injured man, the Brody family, the Broward sheriff’s office and an insurer reached agreement this year.
“Today is a day for gratitude – appreciation to all those involved, and especially to our friends, family and supporters, some whom we have never even met,” Brody’s father Chuck Brody said in a statement. “This success brings closure for our family and, finally, justice for our son, Eric.”
Scott said in a letter Thursday that he was pleased the sides had reached agreement. But he also signaled he will “closely scrutinize” claims-bill awards that exceed insurance policy limits.
“Such scrutiny is essential to maintaining the proper balance between sovereign immunity, the risks of escalating insurance costs incurred by state and local governments and the need to fully compensate the victims,” Scott wrote.
In another high-profile issue, Scott approved a bill (HB 7131) that will lead to the city of Tallahassee paying $2.4 million to the parents of Hoffman, who was killed in 2008 while working as an informant in a drug sting.
Also, Scott approved a measure (HB 965) that calls for Lee Memorial Health System to provide $15 million for the care of Aaron Edwards, who was born in 1997 with cerebral palsy. A jury found that negligence by Lee Memorial staff led to the injuries, which have caused Edwards to need round-the-clock care.
The public hospital system lobbied against the claims bill, arguing that a $15 million award would damage its ability to provide care to other children in Southwest Florida. But lawmakers noted, in part, that Lee Memorial had decided against buying insurance to help pay for such potential cases.