TALLAHASSEE — Nearly 14 years after a Broward County sheriff's deputy slammed his cruiser into a car driven by 18-year-old Eric Brody, permanently injuring him, the Florida Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would provide a $10.8 million settlement to the Brody family.
It was one of the first bills to pass the Senate during the 2012 session, after Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, made it a priority to provide the man's family some financial relief this year. In the final hours of the 2011 session, a bill that would have allowed the family to collect $12 million died on the floor of the House in a chaotic turn of events.
"I am pleased that on the first day of session we were able to pass this important bill to restore justice to one of our fellow Floridians," Haridopolos said in a statement. "I firmly believe that it is never too late to do the right thing, and today, we voted to do the right thing."
Brody, 32, and his parents, all from Sunrise, posted a video on YouTube thanking the legislators for passing the bill. For the past four years, they have watched in person as the claims bills have died in the Legislature, but they were unable to make the trip this year because Eric Brody was bedridden following hip surgery.
"After 14 years, we are most grateful to each of you, for helping us reach our goal of justice for Eric, and providing us with funds that will hopefully assure him of the care he deserves for the rest of his life," said Chuck Brody, Eric's father.
The Senate also passed a bill that will give $1.35 million to William Dillon, a Brevard County man who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Brody was a college-bound senior in high school and on the way home from his part-time job at the time of the accident. The deputy, Christopher Thieman, was on his way to a mandatory roll call at the sheriff's district station in Weston. He was driving as fast as 70 mph when he hit Brody's car, a 1982 AMC Concord. The speed limit was 45 mph.
Brody suffered severe brain injury and remained in an induced coma for about six months. He now gets around in a wheelchair and has several mobility and speech disabilities.
In 2005, a Broward jury found that Thieman was negligent and awarded Brody's family $30.9 million in costs and damages. But to collect more than $200,000 from a government entity requires approval from the Legislature, and lawmakers have not been able to reach a consensus for the past four years.
A last-minute amendment by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, reduced the amount of the proposed settlement from $15.6 million to $10.8 million, an amount that will likely be more palatable to lawmakers in the House.
House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said earlier in the day that the budget was the top issue for the House, and that policy issues would come second. Claims bills, he said, were "tertiary."
The $10.75 million deal will be covered by the insurance company, shielding the Broward County Sheriff's Office, and by extension taxpayers, from bearing costs.
Times/Herald staff writer Tia Mitchell contributed to this report.