Claims bills begin journeys with Senate Prez backing

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A Senate committee Wednesday approved two claims bills that are priorities of President Mike Haridopolos — but a renewed lobbying battle looms about a proposal to award more than $15 million to a Broward County man, Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida reports.

The Senate Rules Committee voted 9-1 to move forward with SB 4, which calls for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office to pay $15.575 million to Eric Brody, who suffered debilitating injuries in a 1998 car accident with a sheriff’s deputy.

But Pete Antonacci, a lobbyist for the sheriff’s office insurer, said the bill is part of “scheme” by Brody’s attorneys to bring what is known as a bad-faith lawsuit against his client. Antonacci said the insurer is willing to pay $8.5 million to Brody to settle the dispute but has been rebuffed.

“$8.5 million is a lot of money,” Antonacci told the committee. “It’s real cash, and it purchases a lot.”

But Lance Block, an attorney for Brody, said $8.5 million would not cover the costs to care for the Broward County man, who suffered brain damage and was in a coma for six months after the accident.

Block argues that the insurer, which operated as Ranger Insurance Co. at the time of the accident, had repeated opportunities to settle the case for $3 million before it went to trial. A Broward County jury in 2005 awarded $30.6 million to Brody, but state sovereign-immunity laws place a $200,000 limit on what the county could be forced to pay without lawmakers approving a claims bill for a larger amount.

“The insurance company handled this case so egregiously — that is why they’re offering $8.5 million,” Block said.

Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, implored the two sides to try to reach an agreement to end the dispute.

“This case cries out to be resolved,” Thrasher said. “Eric Brody needs to be helped.”

Haridopolos has made a priority of passing claims bills to provide money to Brody and William Dillon, who spent 27 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted in a 1981 murder in Brevard County. The bills could pass the Senate during the first week of the 2012 legislative session.

The president, who made a rare committee appearance during Wednesday’s meeting, also pushed claims bills for Brody and Dillon during the 2011 session. But the bills died in the House in the final chaotic hours of the session.

The Rules Committee voted 11-0 to support SB 2, which would provide $1.35 million to Dillon — $50,000 for each year he was in prison. Haridopolos, who is sponsoring the Dillon bill, called it the “right thing to do.”

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.