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School Board votes to settle death for $725,000

The School Board this week approved a $725,000 settlement of a wrongful-death lawsuit that arose when a Citrus school bus driver was involved in an accident that resulted in the death of a Citrus Springs resident.

The settlement exceeds the $100,000 to $200,000 cap that state law has established for governmental entities. The board had previously agreed that, because the woman had three children, they would waive the legal cap, known as sovereign immunity.

The settlement money won't come from the district's coffers; instead, it will come from a liability fund through the district's insurer, the Florida School Boards Insurance Trust, and from additional insurance bought to cover extraordinary settlements, board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick told the board late Tuesday.

On May 13, 2002, school bus driver Phyllis Lewis was driving her route in Citrus Springs, returning Lecanto High School students to their homes, when she entered the intersection of North Galt Point and Ventura Lane and made a turn. A stop sign that was supposed to be there was not in place. The bus was struck by a car driven by Luz Barbosa, who later died of her injuries.

Lewis quit shortly after the accident.

In a lawsuit, Celines Freeman, Barbosa's daughter and representative of her estate, sought damages and alleged that the driver was negligent and careless. The school district's attorney sought dismissal of the case. In a series of legal moves and countermoves, the two sides argued about who bore the majority of the blame.

The school district placed some of the blame on Barbosa for not wearing her seat belt and blame on whomever removed the stop sign from the intersection. Freeman's legal team argued that Lewis was to blame for the death.

Last month, the sides met in mediation and reached a settlement, which the School Board has discussed behind closed doors several times in recent months. Such discussions are one of the rare occasions when the board can meet and discuss issues privately.

After another such session Tuesday evening, Fitzpatrick asked the board for a public vote on the $725,000 settlement. Members unanimously approved it.

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