By JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
The family of a Florida State University football player who died during a 2001 training session will receive the remainder of a legal settlement after Gov. Rick Scott signed 11 “claim” bills last week.
Many of the claim bills, among more than 30 measures Scott signed into law Friday, came years after people were injured or killed and lawsuits were filed alleging negligence by government agencies.
Lawmakers must approve the bills because of “sovereign immunity,” a legal concept that shields agencies from paying large amounts in lawsuits. The bills direct agencies to pay amounts over the sovereign-immunity caps, which were $200,000 or $300,000 in many of the cases.
Here are brief descriptions of claim bills signed into law Friday by Scott:
FSU PLAYER’S DEATH: Devaughn Darling was a freshman football player at Florida State University when he collapsed and died during a training session in February 2001. Darling’s family filed a lawsuit alleging that Florida State was negligent in its supervision of Darling, who had been diagnosed before his death with sickle cell trait. The family and the university reached a $2 million settlement, with payment of $1.8 million dependent on passage of a claim bill. The bill (HB 6515) directs the university to pay the $1.8 million.
DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED WOMAN RAPED: A 22-year-old woman with developmental disabilities was living in an Orange County group home in 2002 when she was raped and impregnated by the husband of the home’s owner. The woman, whose disabilities included autism and cerebral palsy, later gave birth to a baby who was put up for adoption. A settlement was reached in a lawsuit that alleged the state negligently supervised the group home. The bill (HB 6501) directs payment of $950,000, to be managed on behalf of the woman, identified only by the initials J.D.S.
PAINT MACHINE INJURY: Sean McNamee, a football player at Tampa’s Wharton High School, was warming up before an October 2013 practice when he lost his balance and struck his head on a paint machine used to line the practice field. The machine had been improperly left in the practice area, and McNamee later had to be rushed to a hospital after his sister found him incoherent and acting strangely at home. He was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury that required multiple surgeries, and his family filed a lawsuit against the Hillsborough County School Board. The bill (HB 6503) directs the school board to pay $1.7 million.
GIRL SEXUALLY ABUSED: In August 1995, the Florida Department of Children and Families removed a 14-month-old girl, identified by the initials L.T., and her infant brother from their mother’s custody because of inadequate care. The children were placed in the home of a great aunt and great uncle. About a year later, the great uncle was accused of a sex crime against a 13-year-old girl and later pleaded no contest to committing a lewd, lascivious and indecent attack on a child. He was placed on probation and required to register as a sex offender, but the Department of Children and Families allowed him to return home and subsequently recommended long-term placement of L.T. and her brother in the home. In 2005, L.T. ran away and said she had been repeatedly sexually and physically abused. The bill (HB 6511) directs the payment of $800,000 because of her injuries and damages.
TANKER DRIVER DEATH: Christian Darby Stephenson was driving a gasoline tanker across Jacksonville’s Hart Bridge Expressway in August 2000, when another motorist hit a pool of water and hydroplaned. Stephenson tried to avoid colliding with the motorist and other vehicles, but the tanker jackknifed and exploded, killing Stephenson. Stephenson’s widow filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Transportation because a clogged drain had caused the pool of water. A jury found the department partly at fault. The bill (HB 6519) directs the payment of $1,116,940.
INJURIES FROM GURNEY FALL: Miami paramedics responded in October 2012 after receiving a 911 call that Mary Mifflin-Gee was having seizure-like symptoms while in her vehicle in a parking lot. The paramedics removed Mifflin-Gee from the vehicle and placed her on a gurney but did not secure her. She fell off the gurney, struck her head and suffered a traumatic brain injury that led to her requiring round-the-clock care. Mifflin-Gee’s guardian filed a lawsuit against the city of Miami, and a settlement was reached. The bill (HB 6521) directs the city to pay $2.3 million.
SCHOOL BUS FATALITY: Aaron Beauchamp was riding in the back of a St. Lucie County school bus in March 2012, when the driver turned in front of a tractor-trailer rig. The boy, age 9, was wearing a seatbelt, but the impact of the crash caused him to be ejected from his seat and suffer fatal injuries. His mother, Lillian Beauchamp, a school principal, filed a lawsuit against the St. Lucie County school district. A jury found the district mostly at fault. The bill (HB 6529) directs the district to pay $1.5 million.
SUNLAND CENTER DEATH: Franklin Weekley, who was intellectually disabled and suffered from a seizure disorder, was admitted in November 2001 to the state’s Sunland Center in Marianna. A little more than a year later, Weekley disappeared from the center and, after a search, officials concluded he had run away. But in 2004, a demolition crew discovered his remains in the basement of a building near the Sunland Center. Weekley’s parents filed a lawsuit and reached a settlement with the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities. The bill (HB 6539) directs payment of $1 million to the parents.
AMBULANCE CRASH: The bill settles a claim in a September 2013 incident in which a Leon County ambulance collided with an SUV in Tallahassee. The crash, in which the ambulance failed to stop at red light, left Angela Sanford severely injured. The bill (HB 6507) directs the county to pay $1.15 million.
TRANSIT BUS INJURY: Jerry Cunningham, a 14-year-old, suffered a brain injury after his arm got caught in the doors of a Broward County Transit bus that he was boarding on May 10, 2013. Cunningham attempted to run alongside the bus, banging on the glass doors. But he ultimately fell on the road and was injured. Cunningham’s parents reached a settlement with the county. The bill (HB 6545) directs Broward County to pay $550,000.
PALM BEACH SCHOOL DISTRICT: The bill settles a pair of incidents involving high-school students in Palm Beach County. Altavious Carter, as a 14-year-old Summit Christian School student in 2005, suffered a broken neck and spinal injuries when the car he was a passenger in was struck from behind by a Palm Beach County school bus. Dustin Reinhardt, a student at Seminole Ridge Community High School, suffered severe brain damage in 2013 when a large truck tire being inflated in an auto-shop class exploded. The bill (HB 6549) directs the school district to pay $790,000 to Carter and $4.7 million to Reinhardt.