In one case, a ladder flew off a state truck, leading to a fatal accident. In another, an infant died after a paperwork error at a county health clinic. In another, a foster child sexually assaulted another boy.
Gov. Rick Scott signed eight bills last week that will lead to paying millions of dollars to resolve cases in which state or local government agencies played a role in people dying or getting injured.
The bills, known as "claim" bills, passed during the legislative session that ended March 11 and stem from sovereign-immunity laws that cap the amounts of money government agencies can be forced to pay in legal cases. Claim bills typically direct agencies to pay amounts that exceed the caps — sometimes long after the deaths or injuries occur.
Here are brief descriptions of the cases, with details from the bills and legislative staff analyses:
— The parents of 5-month-old Nicholas Patnode took him to a Martin County Health Department clinic in 1998 because of a fever. A blood test showed a condition that needed immediate treatment with antibiotics. The results of the blood test were printed but not picked up from the clinic's printer. The child's condition deteriorated, and he was taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. He subsequently died. The parents won a lawsuit but could only receive $200,000 without a claim bill. The bill (HB 6501) signed last week by Scott directs the Department of Health to pay $2.4 million.
— Nine weeks pregnant, Vonshelle Brothers went to the Brevard County Health Department in 2010 for an initial pre-natal checkup. Lab tests indicated Brothers had herpes simplex virus, but the health department did not report the results to her. After giving birth later that year, Brothers went to a hospital because her daughter, Iyonna Hughey, had a fever, was weak and was not eating. Tests showed that the baby had herpes simplex virus, which caused developmental delays and the need for speech and physical therapy. Brothers reached a legal settlement but was only able to receive $200,000 without a claim bill. The bill (HB 6505) signed last week by Scott directed the Department of Health to pay $1 million.
— In 2002, the Department of Children and Families placed J.W., a 10-year-old boy with a history of mental illness and sexually aggressive behavior, with a foster family. The family included an 8-year-old boy identified by the initials C.M.H. The Department of Children and Families was aware of J.W.'s sexually aggressive behavior but did not remove him from the home. C.M.H. later told his parents that J.W. had sexually assaulted him. The family filed a lawsuit against the department and reached a settlement but was only able to receive $100,000 without a claim bill. The bill (HB 6509) signed last week by Scott directed the department to pay nearly $5.1 million.
— Cathleen Smiley was waiting to make a left turn in her pickup truck in 1998 when a bus owned by Brevard County caused a chain-reaction accident. Smiley's truck was hit from behind, and she hit her head and was knocked unconscious. Smiley and other motorists involved in the accident filed lawsuits against the county. But other plaintiffs resolved their cases first, with the county reaching its $200,000 payment limit under sovereign immunity. Smiley reached a settlement with the county for $25,000, and a bill (HB 6515) signed by Scott last week directed the county to pay that amount.
— Jean Pierre Kamel, a student at Palm Beach County's Conniston Middle School, reported in 1997 that he was being bullied by another student, Tronneal Mangum. Kamel, who had a prosthetic leg because of a birth defect, told school officials that the other youth taunted him and kicked his prosthetic leg. Mangum brought a loaded gun to school on Jan. 27, 1997, and fatally shot Kamel. Kamel's parents filed a lawsuit, and a jury found the Palm Beach County school district at fault. The parents, however, were only able to receive $200,000 without a claim bill. The bill (HB 6523) signed last week by Scott directed the school district to pay an additional $360,000 based on a settlement agreement.
— Christopher Cannon was driving his motorcycle home from work in 2015 when a city of Tallahassee "Dial-A-Ride" bus turned in front him. Cannon crashed into the bus and was thrown from his motorcycle across two lanes of traffic. Cannon suffered extensive injuries including broken bones, a kidney laceration and a spleen laceration. Cannon filed a lawsuit against the city, with a settlement ultimately reached for $700,000. But Cannon could only receive $200,000 without a claim bill. The bill (HB 6527) signed last week by Scott directs the city to pay the remaining $500,000.
— As a Florida Department of Transportation truck traveled north on Interstate 75 in Tampa in June 1999, a 12-foot extension ladder fell off the truck. A motorist behind the truck swerved to avoid the ladder, lost control of her vehicle, crossed over the median and collided head-on with a car driven by Sherrill Lynn Aversa. The two vehicles then were hit by other cars, causing the death of Aversa, an epidemiologist. Aversa's estate filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation and ultimately reached a settlement for $800,000. It could only receive $150,000 without a claim bill. The bill (HB 6535) signed last week by Scott directed the payment of the remaining $650,000.
— Ramiro Companioni Jr. was riding a motorcycle in Tampa shortly before noon on Nov. 22, 1996, when a city water-department pickup truck started crossing the lanes to make a left-hand turn. Companioni collided with the truck, was knocked unconscious and remained in an induced coma for nearly a month at Tampa General Hospital. He has undergone more than 20 surgeries stemming from the accident and filed a lawsuit against the city in 2004. Companioni was awarded $17.9 million in damages but was only able to receive $100,000 without a claim bill. The bill (HB 6545) signed last week by Scott directed the city of Tampa to pay $5 million, which reflects a settlement.