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Paralyzed Teen's $3.5M Settlement: Why Won't Fla. Pay?

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. | Last updated on

Jacksonville, Florida officials have agreed to pay a paralyzed teen $3.5 million for his injuries, but have only been allowed to pay $200,000 of the settlement money.

The teen was paralyzed after a large tree branch from a city-owned tree fell on him. Although the Jacksonville, Florida government has agreed to pay the full settlement amount, the Florida legislature won't approve the rest of the payment, according to The Associated Press.

So why won't Florida pay?

Florida's Claim Bill Process

Under Florida law, any claim over $200,000 against any government entity must be approved by the state legislature, according to The AP. This includes money that would be paid by the local government or its insurance carrier.

For claims over $200,000, the injured party must file a claim bill and get the majority of the Florida legislature to approve it. Claim bills compensate an individual or entity for injuries or losses caused by the negligence or error of a public officer or agency, even when those government entities may be immune from a lawsuit.

The problem for the paralyzed teen's $3.5 million settlement is that the Florida Senate President Don Gaetz refuses to hear the teen or any other person's claim bills during his two-year term as president, reports The AP. Gaetz alleges the bill claims system is "broken" and relies too much on emotion rather than on its merits.

Although recovering the full settlement amount is currently blocked by the legislature, there's another Florida statute that allows plaintiffs to collect amounts over $200,000 without the legislature's approval if the state or an agency agrees to it.

Suing the Government

Unlike suing individuals, suing the government usually requires victims to file a notice of claim before they're allowed to proceed with a lawsuit. This is because governments usually have sovereign immunity from lawsuits and cannot typically be sued without permission.

Sovereign immunity can limit the government's liability for injuries or damages as long as it exercised reasonable care to prevent damages. In the Florida case, the teen was struck by a large branch that fell from a rotting tree. Despite several complaints from residents, the tree wasn't removed until after the injury occurred.

The Jacksonville City Council is working with the paralyzed teen's family to urge the legislature to pass his claim bill, according to The AP.

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