Florida Senate - 2017 SB 38 By Senator Benacquisto 27-00043A-17 201738__ 1 A bill to be entitled 2 An act for the relief of L.T.; providing an 3 appropriation to compensate L.T. for injuries and 4 damages sustained as a result of the negligence of 5 employees of the Department of Children and Families, 6 formerly known as the Department of Children and 7 Family Services; providing legislative intent 8 regarding certain Medicaid liens; providing a 9 limitation on the payment of fees and costs; providing 10 an effective date. 11 12 WHEREAS, on August 15, 1995, the Department of Children and 13 Families removed 14-month-old L.T. and her infant brother from 14 their mother’s custody because they were not receiving adequate 15 care, and 16 WHEREAS, the Department of Children and Families 17 temporarily placed the children into the home of the children’s 18 great aunt and uncle, Vicki and Eddie Thomas, and 19 WHEREAS, a background check that was conducted shortly 20 after L.T. and her brother were placed in the Thomases’ home 21 indicated that Mr. Thomas had once been convicted of a 22 misdemeanor and possession of narcotics equipment, and 23 WHEREAS, the background check also revealed that Ms. Thomas 24 had been charged with, but apparently not convicted of, larceny, 25 and 26 WHEREAS, the background check did not reveal any prior 27 history of violence, sex offenses, or child abuse, and 28 WHEREAS, after conducting a home study, interviews, and an 29 investigation, the Department of Children and Families concluded 30 that the Thomases were capable of providing a safe home for L.T. 31 and her brother and approved the placement, and 32 WHEREAS, on August 21, 1996, approximately 1 year after 33 L.T. and her brother had been placed in the Thomases’ home, Mr. 34 Thomas was charged with committing a lewd and lascivious act on 35 a child under the age of 16, and 36 WHEREAS, the alleged victim was the 13-year-old daughter of 37 a woman with whom Mr. Thomas was having an extramarital affair, 38 and the state later amended the charge to add a count for sexual 39 battery on a child by a familial or custodial authority, and 40 WHEREAS, after two hung jury trials in January and March of 41 1997, Mr. Thomas pled no contest in April 1997 to committing a 42 lewd, lascivious, and indecent act on a child under the age of 43 16, and 44 WHEREAS, Mr. Thomas was sentenced to 5 years’ probation and 45 required to attend sex offender classes and register as a sex 46 offender, and 47 WHEREAS, on May 9, 1997, 1 month after Mr. Thomas entered 48 his plea and was convicted of a child sex crime, the Department 49 of Children and Families recommended, and the judge approved, an 50 order allowing Mr. Thomas to return home and have unsupervised 51 contact with the children, and 52 WHEREAS, although the policies of the Department of 53 Children and Families barred Mr. Thomas from being able to adopt 54 a child because of his conviction for a sex act with a child and 55 his sex offender status, the policies did not prohibit the 56 continued placement of L.T. and her brother in the Thomases’ 57 home, and so the children remained with the Thomases, and 58 WHEREAS, the Department of Children and Families 59 subsequently recommended to the court the permanent, long-term 60 placement of L.T. and her brother in the Thomases’ home and 61 further recommended that the children be removed from protective 62 services, with no further supervision by the department, and 63 WHEREAS, on March 3, 2000, following the recommendation of 64 the Department of Children and Families, the court approved L.T. 65 and her brother’s long-term placement with the Thomases and 66 removed the children from continued protective services, and 67 WHEREAS, on March 24, 2003, an abuse hotline call to the 68 Department of Children and Families reported that L.T. was being 69 abused by Mr. Thomas and that both Mr. and Ms. Thomas were using 70 drugs in the children’s presence, and 71 WHEREAS, the next day, a child protective investigator for 72 the Department of Children and Families interviewed L.T. and her 73 brother while in the presence of Ms. Thomas, and neither child 74 was asked to be interviewed outside Ms. Thomas’s presence, and 75 WHEREAS, L.T. and her brother denied the abuse allegations 76 while Ms. Thomas watched and listened to them, and 77 WHEREAS, results from new background checks and drug 78 screens were negative, and the Department of Children and 79 Families concluded that L.T. and her brother were not at risk of 80 abuse and closed the case, and 81 WHEREAS, on February 24, 2005, L.T. ran away from the 82 Thomases’ home and was found by law enforcement officers, and 83 WHEREAS, L.T. ran away from home because she had been 84 repeatedly sexually and physically abused by Mr. Thomas and 85 physically, verbally, and emotionally abused for years by Ms. 86 Thomas, and 87 WHEREAS, L.T. and her brother were finally removed from the 88 Thomases’ home in 2005, and 89 WHEREAS, during her adolescent and teenaged years, L.T. was 90 the subject of repeated Baker Act proceedings and suicide 91 attempts and was in and out of inpatient and outpatient 92 psychiatric facilities, and 93 WHEREAS, L.T. has been seen and treated by physicians and 94 mental health care professionals who have diagnosed her with 95 depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and 96 other disorders attributed to her trauma, and 97 WHEREAS, although L.T. struggles with the symptoms of 98 depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and anxiety disorder, 99 she is now 22 years of age, is married to a Naval Petty Officer 100 who is stationed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, is the 101 mother of 2 very young daughters, and attends Florida State 102 College at Jacksonville as she works toward her goal of becoming 103 a mental health care professional specializing in treating 104 children who have been abused, neglected, or traumatized, and 105 WHEREAS, a lawsuit was brought on L.T.’s behalf in state 106 and federal courts alleging negligence pursuant to s. 768.28, 107 Florida Statutes, and civil rights violations pursuant to 42 108 U.S.C. s. 1983, and 109 WHEREAS, the civil rights claims were disposed of by the 110 trial court, but the negligence claims continued to be 111 litigated, and a jury trial of the case was set in Leon County, 112 and 113 WHEREAS, the parties attended a court-ordered mediation and 114 on June 21, 2010, agreed to a mediated settlement under which 115 L.T. will receive $1 million, of which $200,000 has been paid, 116 and the claim for the remaining $800,000 is being submitted 117 through this bill, which the Department of Children and Families 118 agrees to support, NOW, THEREFORE, 119 120 Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida: 121 122 Section 1. The facts stated in the preamble to this act are 123 found and declared to be true. 124 Section 2. There is appropriated from the General Revenue 125 Fund to the Department of Children and Families the sum of 126 $800,000 for the relief of L.T. for the injuries and damages she 127 sustained. After payment of attorney fees and costs, lobbying 128 fees, and other similar expenses relating to this claim; 129 outstanding medical liens other than Medicaid liens; and other 130 immediate needs, the remaining funds shall be placed into a 131 trust created for the exclusive use and benefit of L.T. The 132 trust shall be administered by an institutional trustee of 133 L.T.’s choosing and shall terminate upon L.T.’s 25th birthday, 134 at which time the remaining principal and interest shall revert 135 to L.T. or, if she predeceases the termination of the trust, to 136 her heirs, beneficiaries, or estate. 137 Section 3. The Chief Financial Officer is directed to draw 138 a warrant in favor of L.T. in the sum of $800,000 upon funds in 139 the State Treasury to the credit of the Department of Children 140 and Families, and the Chief Financial Officer is directed to pay 141 the same out of such funds in the State Treasury not otherwise 142 appropriated. 143 Section 4. It is the intent of the Legislature that any and 144 all Medicaid liens arising from the treatment and care of the 145 injuries and damages to L.T. described in this act shall be 146 waived or paid by the state. 147 Section 5. The amount awarded pursuant to the waiver of 148 sovereign immunity under s. 768.28, Florida Statutes, and the 149 amount awarded under this act are intended to provide the sole 150 compensation for all present and future claims arising out of 151 the factual situation described in the preamble to this act 152 which resulted in the injuries and damages to L.T. The total 153 amount paid for attorney fees, lobbying fees, costs, and similar 154 expenses relating to this claim may not exceed 25 percent of the 155 total amount awarded under this act. 156 Section 6. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law.