Two Florida lawmakers are already looking ahead to next year’s legislative session to revive a bipartisan effort to reform the state’s claims bill process. It allows those who sue a government agency over things like injuries or negligence to receive the rest of the money awarded to them—a process that can often take years.
In 2012, Mary Mifflin-Gee was having a seizure in a parking lot. The City of Miami’s fire rescue responded.
“And, as they loaded Ms. Mifflin-Gee out of the car, she was not strapped properly to the gurney,” said Rep. Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach), during a House committee hearing. “As they tried to put her into the ambulance, she fell out, striking her head violently.”
So, Jenne says as a result, Mary Mifflin-Gee suffered a severe traumatic brain injury.
“She underwent a left craniectomy, cranioplasty, a number of different issues that have come up where there are numerous complications: dysphasia, hypertension, anemia, chronic disease, acute renal failure, respiratory distress, urinary tract infections, rectal bleeding, and deep vein thrombosis,” he added.
In 2013, Mary’s sister—who’s now her legal guardian—filed a lawsuit. The city of Miami agreed to settle for $2.5 million in 2015. Mary has received $200,000. But, to get the rest, she needed legislative approval through what’s known as the “Claims bill process.”
Jenne agreed to sponsor that bill this year, and it’s one of the 13 claims bill sent to the Governor for approval.
This is the first time that claims bill was ever filed. That’s unusual in a process that’s often called “flawed.” Victims usually have to wait years to get legislative approval, even if all parties agreed on the settled claim.
It’s why Jenne says the claims bill process needs to be reformed. He’d filed two other claims bills this year. Both died in the legislative committee process.
So, Jenne along with Rep. James Grant (R-Tampa) filed a measure to do just that. But, it never got taken up in any committees. Still, Jenne says they’ll be back next year.
“Rep. Jamie Grant—a Republican from the West Coast—and I’m a Democrat from the East coast—we’re working together on a bill to do just that to reform that process,” stated Jenne, following the end of Session. “We’ve already started working with the chairs who might see that bill next year to find out what they need to see in it in order for it to get a hearing. So, that’s one that I’m going to be definitely bringing back and I’ve made a commitment and so has Representative Grant. And, I’m going to keep carrying that bill until we get it done.”
State Representative Grant chaired a committee on claims bills in 2013. At the time, he’d intended to put forth a committee bill to change the current claims bill process. Now, he says he’s trying to put a lot of those ideas into a bill everyone can get behind.
“Yeah, I think it kind of stems out of some effort that we’ve had in the House over the last few years,” Grant said. Representative Jenne and myself both feel passionate that the process ought to be a lot more transparent. It ought to be a lot less dependent on who your lobbyist is. Somebody who has legitimately, wrongfully been injured ought to not have to be subject to the chaos that sometimes is this process. So, I think we’re looking again next year.”
While there was no Senate companion this year, Grant says there may be some Senators willing to sponsor it next year.
“Unfortunately, the Senate didn’t file a bill this year,” he added. “Sen. [Travis] Hutson’s very interested and others to work with us to work on some of the reforms that came out of the select committee I chaired that we had in the House a couple years ago.”
The bill includes a provision raising a local government’s initial payout to a victim from the present $200,000 cap to $1 million.
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