The House Subcommittee on Civil Justice voted favorably on 16 of the 17 claims bills it heard on Friday morning, including a measure to compensate the family of Eric Brody, who was permanently injured in 1998 by a speeding Broward County Sheriff's deputy.
The Brody claims bill, which passed in the Senate last year but died on the cutting floor of the House during a chaotic series of events, has come up for a vote and failed for the past four years.
A priority of Sen. Mike Haridopolos, D-Merritt Island, it was one of the first bills heard on the first day of the legislative session. But its delayed movement in the House had sparked concern that the bill might fail for the fifth year in a row.
The House bill, which would provide Brody’s family with $10.75 million in compensation, differs from the original Senate version because it caps fees and costs for attorneys and lobbyists at $400,000.
According to Florida law, legislators have to approve judgments against government entities in excess of $200,000.
In addition to the Brody bill, the committee voted in favor of 15 other claims bills, many of them for South Florida residents. The committee also voted favorably on the $810,000 claims bill for William Dillon, a Brevard County man who was wrongfully jailed for 27 years.
Only one bill failed to pass the committee. A $1.6 million claims bill for the mother of Omar Mieles, an 18-year-old who was killed when the car he was riding in was broadsided by a speeding North Miami police officer, went down on a narrow vote. Several lawmakers voted against the measure, since a jury found that the driver of the car Mieles was riding in ran through a blinking a red light.
Several other bills passed with bipartisan votes. Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, voted against nearly every claims bill as a matter of principle (he believes in sovereign immunity for governments and is against the concept that lawmakers get to wave that section of state law for individual cases).
Among the proposals that passed: A bill providing relief for the family of Juan Carlos Rivera, who was stabbed to death at Coral Gables Senior High in 2009. The bill would award the family $1.1 million dollars.
Rivera, 17, and classmate Andy Rodriguez were in a schoolyard fight when Rodriguez reached for a knife. Rodriguez was later found guilty of second-degree murder with a weapon, and sentenced to 40 years in prison and 10 years of probation.
Lawyers for Rivera's family claimed the school district was negligent for having left students unsupervised.
The Miami-Dade School Board and the Rivera family agreed to a $1.8 million settlement, $700,000 of which has already been paid out. As part of the settlement, the School Board agreed not to lobby against the claims bill.
Other high profile cases heard Friday included that of Kevin Colindres, an autistic teenager who suffered brain damage while being restrained by City of Miami police officers in 2006. Colindres died
three weeks later. The case was arbitrated and the Colindres family awarded $2.55 million.
On Friday, Assistant City of Miami Attorney Henry Hunnefeld urged lawmakers to vote against the claims bill, arguing that police officers had followed procedure -- and that Colindres had acted in an
"The City of Miami is at the forefront of training its police officers to deal with the mentally ill," Hunnefeld said.
Other claims bills addressed medical malpractice and traffic accidents. One sought to compensate the young children of a woman who was struck and killed by a Miami-Dade police cruiser. Another sought
relief for the family of a 54-year-old woman who died after a Miami-Dade County bus stopped short.
Also passing the committee: A $30.7 million claims bill for 14-year-old Aaron Edwards, a straight-A student who has limited use of his arms, legs and mouth after suffering a severe brain injury during his birth at Lee Memorial Hospital.