Florida Senate - 2012 (NP) SB 4 By Senator Benacquisto 27-00005A-12 20124__ 1 A bill to be entitled 2 An act for the relief of Eric Brody by the Broward 3 County Sheriff’s Office; providing for an 4 appropriation to compensate Eric Brody for injuries 5 sustained as a result of the negligence of the Broward 6 County Sheriff’s Office; providing a limitation on the 7 payment of fees and costs related to the claim against 8 the Broward County Sheriff’s Office; providing 9 legislative intent regarding lien interests held by 10 the state; requiring that the guardianship pay a 11 portion of such liens before distributing funds to the 12 claimant; providing an effective date. 13 14 WHEREAS, on the evening of March 3, 1998, 18-year-old Eric 15 Brody, a college-bound high school senior, was returning home 16 from his part-time job at the Sawgrass Mills Sports Authority. 17 Eric was driving his 1982 AMC Concord eastbound on Oakland Park 18 Boulevard in Sunrise, Florida, and 19 WHEREAS, that same evening, Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy 20 Christopher Thieman, who had been visiting his girlfriend and 21 was running late for duty, was driving his Broward County 22 Sheriff’s Office cruiser westbound on Oakland Park Boulevard. At 23 the time he left his girlfriend’s house, Deputy Thieman had less 24 than 15 minutes to travel 11 miles to make roll call on time, 25 which was mandatory pursuant to sheriff’s office policy and 26 procedure, and 27 WHEREAS, at approximately 10:36 p.m., Eric Brody began to 28 make a left-hand turn into his neighborhood at the intersection 29 of N.W. 117th Avenue and Oakland Park Boulevard. Deputy Thieman, 30 who was driving in excess of the 45-mile-per-hour posted speed 31 limit and traveling in the opposite direction, was not within 32 the intersection and was more than 430 feet away from Eric 33 Brody’s car when Eric Brody began the turn. Eric Brody’s car 34 cleared two of the three westbound lanes on Oakland Park 35 Boulevard, and 36 WHEREAS, Deputy Thieman, who was traveling in the inside 37 westbound lane closest to the median, suddenly and inexplicably 38 steered his vehicle to the right, across the center lane and 39 into the outside lane, where the front end of his car struck the 40 passenger side of Eric’s car with great force, just behind the 41 right front wheel and near the passenger door, and 42 WHEREAS, Deputy Thieman testified at trial that although he 43 knew that the posted speed limit was 45 miles per hour, he 44 refused to provide an estimate as to how fast he was traveling 45 before the crash, and 46 WHEREAS, despite the appearance of a conflict of interest, 47 the Broward County Sheriff’s Office chose to conduct the 48 official crash investigation instead of deferring to the City of 49 Sunrise Police Department, which also had jurisdiction, or the 50 Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), which often investigates motor 51 vehicle collisions involving non-FHP law enforcement officers so 52 as to avoid any possible conflict of interest, and 53 WHEREAS, in the course of the investigation, the Broward 54 County Sheriff’s Office lost key evidence from the crashed 55 vehicles and did not report any witnesses even though the first 56 responders to the crash scene were police officers from the City 57 of Sunrise, and 58 WHEREAS, the Broward County detective who led the crash 59 investigation entered inaccurate data into a computerized 60 accident reconstruction program which skewed the speed that 61 Deputy Thieman was driving, but, nevertheless, determined that 62 he was still traveling well over the speed limit, and 63 WHEREAS, accident reconstruction experts called by both 64 parties testified that Deputy Thieman was driving at least 60 to 65 more than 70 miles per hour when his vehicle slammed into the 66 passenger side of Eric Brody’s car, and 67 WHEREAS, Eric Brody was found unconscious 6 minutes later 68 by paramedics, his head and upper torso leaning upright and 69 toward the passenger-side door. Although he was out of his 70 shoulder harness and seat belt by the time paramedics arrived, 71 the Brody’s attorney proved that Eric was wearing his seat belt 72 and that the 16-year-old seat belt buckle failed during the 73 crash. Photographs taken at the scene by the sheriff’s office 74 investigators showed the belt to be fully spooled out because 75 the retractor was jammed, with the belt dangling outside the 76 vehicle from the driver-side door, providing proof that Eric 77 Brody was wearing his seat belt and shoulder harness during the 78 crash, and 79 WHEREAS, accident reconstruction and human factor experts 80 called by both the plaintiff and the defendant agreed that if 81 Deputy Thieman been driving at the speed limit, Eric Brody would 82 have easily completed his turn, and 83 WHEREAS, the experts also agreed that if Deputy Thieman 84 simply remained within his lane of travel, regardless of his 85 speed, there would not have been a collision, and 86 WHEREAS, in order to investigate the seat-belt defense, 87 experts for Eric Brody recreated the accident using an exact 88 car-to-car crash test that was conducted by a nationally 89 recognized crash test facility. The crash test involved vehicles 90 identical to the Brody and Thieman vehicles, a fully 91 instrumented hybrid III dummy, and high-speed action cameras, 92 and 93 WHEREAS, the crash test proved that Eric Brody was wearing 94 his restraint system during the crash because the seat-belted 95 test dummy struck its head on the passenger door within inches 96 of where Eric Brody’s head actually struck the passenger door, 97 and 98 WHEREAS, when Eric Brody’s head struck the passenger door 99 of his vehicle, the door crushed inward from the force of the 100 impact with the police cruiser while at the same time his upper 101 torso was moving toward the point of impact and the passenger 102 door. The impact resulted in skull fractures and massive brain 103 sheering, bleeding, bruising, and swelling, and 104 WHEREAS, Eric Brody was airlifted by helicopter to Broward 105 General Hospital where he was placed on a ventilator and 106 underwent an emergency craniotomy and neurosurgery. He began to 107 recover from a deep coma more than 7 months after his injury and 108 underwent extensive rehabilitation, having to relearn how to 109 walk, talk, feed himself, and perform other basic functions, and 110 WHEREAS, Eric Brody, who is now 30 years old, has been left 111 profoundly brain-injured, lives with his parents, and is mostly 112 isolated from his former friends and other young people his age. 113 His speech is barely intelligible and he has significant 114 cognitive dysfunction, judgment impairment, memory loss, and 115 neuro-visual disabilities. Eric Brody also has impaired fine and 116 gross motor skills and very poor balance. Although Eric is able 117 to use a walker for short distances, he mostly uses a wheelchair 118 to get around. The entire left side of his body is partially 119 paralyzed and spastic, and he needs help with many of his daily 120 functions. Eric Brody is permanently and totally disabled; 121 however, he has a normal life expectancy, and 122 WHEREAS, the cost of Eric Brody’s life care plan is nearly 123 $10 million, and he has been left totally dependent on public 124 health programs and taxpayer assistance since 1998, and 125 WHEREAS, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office was insured 126 for this claim through Ranger Insurance Company and paid more 127 than $400,000 for liability coverage that has a policy limit of 128 $3 million, and 129 WHEREAS, Ranger Insurance Company ignored seven demand 130 letters and other attempts by the Brodys to settle the case for 131 the policy limit, and instead chose to wait for more than 7 132 years following the date of the accident until the day the trial 133 judge specially set the case for trial before offering to pay 134 the policy limit. By that time nearly $750,000 had been spent 135 preparing the case for trial, and Eric Brody had past due bills 136 and liens of nearly $1.5 million for health and rehabilitative 137 care services. Because so much money had been spent preparing 138 the case for trial, the exorbitant costs of Eric Brody’s medical 139 bills and liens, and the costs of future care continued to 140 escalate, settlement for the policy limit was no longer 141 feasible, and 142 WHEREAS, on December 1, 2005, after a 2-month trial, a 143 Broward County jury consisting of three men and three women 144 found that that Deputy Thieman and the Broward County Sheriff’s 145 Office were 100 percent negligent, and Eric Brody was not 146 comparatively negligent, and 147 WHEREAS, the jury found Eric Brody’s damages to be 148 $30,609,298, including a determination that his past and future 149 care and other economic damages were $11,326,216, and 150 WHEREAS, final judgment was entered for $30,609,298, and 151 the court entered a cost judgment for $270,372.30, and 152 WHEREAS, the court denied the Broward County Sheriff’s 153 Office posttrial motions for judgment notwithstanding the 154 verdict, new trial, or remittitur, and 155 WHEREAS, the insurer of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office 156 retained appellate counsel and elected to appeal the final 157 judgment but not the cost judgment, and 158 WHEREAS, the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld the 159 verdict in the fall of 2007, and 160 WHEREAS, the insurer of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office 161 subsequently petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to seek 162 another appeal, but the petition was denied in April of 2008, 163 and 164 WHEREAS, all legal remedies for all parties involved have 165 been exhausted and this case is ripe for a claim bill, and 166 WHEREAS, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office has paid 167 $200,000 pursuant to s. 768.28, Florida Statutes, and the amount 168 of $12 million is sought through the submission of a claim bill 169 to the Legislature, NOW, THEREFORE, 170 171 Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida: 172 173 Section 1. The facts stated in the preamble to this act are 174 found and declared to be true. 175 Section 2. The Sheriff of Broward County is authorized and 176 directed to appropriate from funds of the Broward County 177 Sheriff’s Office not otherwise appropriated and to draw a 178 warrant payable to the Guardianship of Eric Brody for one-half 179 of all amounts that remain unpaid in accordance with the final 180 judgment, plus the cost judgment, in the sum of $15,575,021.30 181 as compensation for injuries and damages sustained as a result 182 of the negligence of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. 183 Section 3. The amount to be paid by the Broward County 184 Sheriff’s Office pursuant to s. 768.28, Florida Statutes, and 185 the amount awarded under this act are intended to provide the 186 sole compensation for all claims arising out of the facts 187 described in this act which resulted in the injuries to Eric 188 Brody. The total amount of attorney’s fees, lobbying fees, 189 costs, and other similar expenses may not exceed 25 percent of 190 the total amount awarded under section 2 of this act. 191 Section 4. It is the intent of the Legislature that one 192 half of the lien interests held by the state resulting from the 193 treatment and care of Eric Brody for the events described in the 194 preamble of this act are not waived and extinguished, and the 195 claimant’s guardianship shall reimburse the state for one-half 196 of the expenses of Medicaid, Medicare, or the Agency for Health 197 Care Administration pursuant to s. 409.910, Florida Statutes. 198 The claimant’s guardianship shall pay the amount due pursuant to 199 this act prior to distributing any funds to the claimant. 200 Section 5. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law.