Lawmakers are expected to approve a $700,000 claims bill to compensate an engineering professor at Florida State University who suffered serious injury after he was struck by a garbage truck while riding a bicycle five years ago.
It may seem an odd step in the civil litigation process, but the reason the case took this route is because in Florida, claims against the government are capped at $200,000 – no matter what the circumstances or expenses incurred. The legal doctrine of sovereign immunity prevents people from bringing claims against the government unless the government approves. Capping damages is one of our state’s limitations on civil claims. Even when the court finds or the government concedes liability for a higher sum, the additional amount must get a final approval stamp from the state legislature in the form of a bill.
In this case, the city of Tallahassee, where this accident occurred, conceded liability and agreed to pay the cyclist $900,000. It gave him the $200,000 it was allowed to give by law, but in order to fulfill the rest of the out-of-court settlement obligation, the case had to go before state lawmakers.
According to news reports of the Florida bicycle accident, the incident occurred in October 2009, when the professor was on his way to work early in the morning. Now 57-years-old, he recalls he was stopped at a red light, next to a garbage truck at an intersection. The truck driver, apparently not looking out for bicyclists, started to turn right on red. As he did so, the hydraulic arm of the truck – he mechanical feature that picks up waste from the roadside – struck the cyclist in the head.
The cyclist was then dragged underneath the huge back wheels of the garbage truck.
The $900,000 price tag does not cover expenses for pain and suffering, lost wages or loss of consortium. Rather, it only will cover the professor’s costs for past and future medical bills and legal costs.
It’s been an arduous process. In fact, it was brought before the Senate and defeated in two previous bills, sponsored by a Tallahassee Democrat. He is sponsoring the measure again for the third time. He called the amount both reasonable and fair, noting the city was not contesting fault and the amount was agreed upon as a result of extensive mediation between the bicyclist and the city.
The man’s injuries were then detailed. Prior to the accident, the professor ran marathons and biked competitively. Those days are over. He suffered severe internal injuries, as well as a broken right leg and broken pelvis. He was hospitalized for more than a month and has had to undergo tedious rounds of physical therapy ever since. He can no longer stand for long periods of time. He also used up all of his vacation time and sick leave at work, and he’s going to need further surgery and must continue to take medication.
Although he had planned to work into his late 60s, he recently entered a program that will allow him to retire early due to his being unable to keep pace with some of the physical limitations.
While the bill has been defeated by lawmakers twice before, it seems lawmakers are prepared to pass the measure this round.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.