Fourteen years after a speeding Broward Sheriff's Office deputy left 18-year-old Eric Brody with permanent, debilitating brain damage, it looks like the Florida Legislature is getting close to paying Brody's family the money it's owed -- OK, actually about a third of the money it's owed.
A court found the Broward Sheriff's Office culpable for more than $30 million in damages in 2005 after Deputy Christopher Thieman T-boned Brody on Oakland Park Boulevard; Thieman was speeding in his cruiser because he was running late for work. Thieman was fine; Brody was in a coma for six months. Because of a Florida law protecting public institutions from being sued for more than $200,000, the judgment has to be passed through the statehouse.
... version of the bill is on the agenda of the Civil Justice Subcommittee for this morning after sitting dormant for weeks.
Though the Senate made a big deal out of passing the bill on the first day of this year's session, the legislation will award the Brodys only a fraction of their court ruling.
A report prepared for the Senate last year by special master Bram D.E. Canter recommended cutting the judgment at least in half to "avoid a precedent for the escalation of claims." The first two versions of the Senate's bill would have paid Brody about $15.8 million; the one the Senate approved awards Brody's family less than $10.8 million, which sounds like a lot until you realize it has to pay for what is essentially around-the-clock care for the rest of the 31-year-old Brody's life, plus the mounds of medical bills his family encountered following the accident.
Though the House bill as it currently reads would approve the full $30 million claim, it doesn't look like they'll be getting it. The analysis by special master Tom Thomas attached to the bill criticizes the original jury's lack of transparency in figuring out how much Brody was owed for pain and suffering, then promptly recommends the House throw almost all of it out... without any transparency.
"I find the determination of economic damages and costs in the amount of $11,647,290.30 to be reasonable and supported by competent and substantial evidence," the report says. At least he threw in the three extra dimes. The point appears to be moot anyway: The report also says the family has agreed to a $10.8 million settlement.
It had been offered as much as $12 million in the past and declined.
"I hate to be a pain in the butt," Brody's father said at the time, "but they literally destroyed my kid's life. He will never marry. He will never have a family. He's shot. He's done."
And now he's getting a third of what a court said he was owed, because some legislators and lawyers thought the number sounded too high.
And, even with the drastically reduced Senate award, two state senators voted against it. It's probably not a surprise that Gainesville Republican Sen. Stephen Oelrich voted against a bill that finds a sheriff's office liable for reckless misconduct and a disgustingly mishandled investigation: He retired in 2006 after 14 years as Alachua County sheriff.
Panhandle Republican Sen. Don Gaetz actually voted against the bill twice: Once in the Rules Committee and again when it came to the floor. If Gaetz's name sounds familiar, it's probably because he had to apologize Monday after making an analogy last week that involved hanging people.
We'll get more information about the fate of the Brodys' money after we see how the subcommittee deals with it today. This wouldn't be the first time the House failed to pass a companion bill for Brody after the Senate passed one -- it happened last year.
If you want more information about Brody's accident and his parents' subsequent struggles in caring for him, we had a feature about it two and a half years ago that highlights -- you guessed it -- how the family was struggling to collect its money.