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Cretul Tells Chairmen to Limit Claims Bills

Citing budget constraints, House Speaker Larry Cretul told key House members Tuesday that the chamber will consider only a handful of claims bill valued at under $500,000 each, a directive that will prevent injured parties from collecting in the most expensive cases.

In a memo, Cretul, R-Ocala, limited to five the number of claims bills to be considered. Not on the list are multimillion settlements made with victims or their families for injuries caused by some government agency or worker. The Senate alone has at least 30 claims bills on file for the upcoming session. 

“In light of the state’s budgetary circumstances, there may be claims bill that have or will be filed that we cannot possibly fill this year,” Cretul said in a memo to chairmen whose committees handle claims bills.

Toward that end, Cretul instructed chairmen to tell members that the House will consider only locally-settled claims in which the local government can pay or state-funded payouts for noncontroversial cases in which the funds to pay the claims are available in an accessible trust fund.

Not included in that ban are cases in which the state is reimbursing someone for time spent in prison.

Under the parameters set out by Cretul, the five bills available for debate are: 

-SB 30: Relief/Lois Lacava/Munroe Retional Health System

-SB 46 Relief/Edwidge Valmyr/City of North Miami

-SB 50 /HB 463 Relief/Madonna Castillo/City of Hialeah

-SB 54 /HB363: Relief/Eskin Bell, II/City of Altamonte Springs

-SB 12/HB9; Relief/Stephen Hall/FDOT

Claims bills have been controversial for years, with some legislative leaders refusing the hear any at all, angered over a process that is too dependent on political contacts and legislative pull.

Others argue that it’s the only way victims can obtain judgments in cases in which  a state or local agency are clearly at fault because Florida law limits the amount a local government can pay in lawsuits.

Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, and chairman of the House Criminal and Civil Justice Policy Council, told the News Service Wednesday he would adhere closely to Cretul’s recommendation

“It’s a matter of necessity,” Snyder said “ It not solely that the speaker dictates this. The budget dictates this.”
 
Cretul’s announcement was met by at least one critic who said the edict will prevent some of the most egregious cases from being considered.

Lance Block, a Tallahassee attorney who frequently represents families in the claims process, said  he wasn't sure how Cretul could simply rule out all bills with judgments of more than $500,000.

Block represents  Eric Brody and has asked for a $30 million judgment in his case. That bill, Block told the News Service, should not be exempt from the process because it would fall back on the private insurance company to pay out the money, not the state.

The $30 million, if approved, would be the largest claims bill ever approved by the Legislature. Brody, now 29, was a high school student when he was hit by a speeding Broward County sheriff's deputy. Brody suffered severe brain damage from the accident and is wheelchair bound
 
“The size of the verdict is reflective of the magnitude of his injury,” Block said.

At  least one  lawmaker says a blanket ban on more than 80 percent of all claims bills is not necessarily a good idea. If the money is available and the claims case is solid, the state should proceed, said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
 
“I think we should look at this on a case by case basis,” Negron told the News Service. “I certainly wouldn’t want to rule out every single claims bill before the session starts.”

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