Paralyzed teen’s family will get $3.5 million under bill

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The family of a Jacksonville teenager who was left paralyzed by a falling tree limb will receive a $3.5 million settlement under a bill the Legislature sent to Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday.

If Scott signs the bill, Joseph and Audrey Stewart will finally be able to better help their son Aubrey four years after he was crushed by the limb that fell from a rotting, city-owned tree that neighbors had been complaining about for months.

“I sent my blessings out to the governor and to Jacksonville,” Joseph Stewart said after the Senate passed the bill on a 36-1 vote. “God bless you.”

Aubrey Stewart was 15 when the accident happened. The city of Jacksonville quickly admitted fault and offered the family $3.5 million for his care. But under Florida law, any claim of more than $200,000 against the state, a city or county must be approved by the Legislature — even if the money would be paid by a local government or its insurance carrier.

Last year, then-Senate President Don Gaetz wasn’t letting his chamber vote on any bill authorizing claims against Florida governments. That included the bill to help the Stewarts, which Gaetz rejected despite pleas from the entire Jacksonville City Council and Mayor Alvin Brown to pay the family.

Joseph Stewart said the family hasn’t had enough money to install ramps and make other changes to the house to help their son get into and through the house. He said they also don’t have a car that can transport him; he recently had to wait outside his school for two hours until a van arrived to take him home.

“He was exhausted when he got home and got depressed,” Stewart said. “Whatever we get, we’re going to use it for the best interest of Aubrey.”

The family also has a stack of unpaid bills for his care that the family will be able to pay if Scott signs the bill.

“It’s going to help, but we still have a long ways to go,” Stewart said. “My trust and my faith was in the Lord. I never lost trust that they would do the right thing.”

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.