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Battle over Compensation for Eric Brody Finally Over

March 8, 2012 - 6:00pm

After a decade of legal and political fights, Florida senators gave final approval Thursday to a $10.75 million claims bill that would compensate Eric Brody for brain injuries he suffered in a 1998 car crash with a Broward County sheriff's deputy.

The House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill, SB 4, after Brody's attorney and lobbyists agreed to waive their fees -- removing the last potential obstacle in the Legislature.

The votes were a victory for Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, who made compensating Brody a priority and was angered when the issue died in the House at the end of the 2011 session.

"Congratulations to the Brody family,'' Haridopolos said after the 36-3 vote in the Senate, which sent the bill to Gov. Rick Scott. "We're glad this sad chapter is finally behind us."

Brody, 32, sat in a wheelchair as he and his parents watched the House and Senate votes. The $10.75 million total was a compromise worked out by attorneys for Brody, the Broward County sheriff's office and an insurer.

A jury in 2005 found that a Broward deputy was negligent in the crash and awarded nearly $30.9 million in damages and costs. The state's sovereign-immunity laws, however, required Brody's family to get a claims bill passed before they could collect more than $200,000, which touched off a lengthy lobbying battle.

Passage of the bill remained in question until Thursday afternoon, as the House and Senate traded proposals about limiting legal and lobbying fees in claims bills. But Brody attorney Lance Block and lobbyists Brian Ballard and Mike Corcoran agreed to give up their fees, leading to quick approval of the bill.

"I'm able to walk and talk and get up and go to work every day,'' Block said. "Eric can't. He deserves all the money. I'm proud to have represented him for a fee or no fee."

It remained unclear, however, whether lawmakers would agree on 11 other claims bills because of differences about fees. The House has pushed for limiting fees, but the Senate this week approved allowing fees up to 25 percent of the amounts awarded in the bills -- if the beneficiaries agree.

House members want to place graduated limits on fees, depending on the amount of the award. The Brody case, for example, would have limited fees to $400,000.

The House stuck to the limits Thursday, though it agreed to allow additional money from the claims bills to go to court costs, such as the costs of depositions or expert witnesses. House members approved the 11 bills and sent them back to the Senate.

Probably the highest-profile bill calls for the city of Tallahassee to pay $2.4 million to the parents of Rachel Hoffman, a police confidential informant who was killed in a 2008 drug sting. Other bills deal with issues ranging from people injured in bus accidents to a baby who died after getting an infection in a hospital.

Rep. Patrick Rooney, a West Palm Beach Republican who is sponsoring one of the bills, said the House wants to limit attorney and lobbying fees to help beneficiaries receive as much money as possible.

"It's mainly to get more money to the actual claimant,'' he said.

But critics said the House's insistence on fee limits could prevent the bills from passing before the legislative session ends Friday.

"These are actual human beings and lives that need to be repaired,'' said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach.

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