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Attempt to collect $30.76 million from BSO stalls in House

A Broward family’s efforts to collect $30.76 million from the Broward Sheriff’s Office after a car crash in 1998 left one teen paralyzed stalled on Monday when lawmakers tabled the bill in its first committee stop.

In 2005, a Broward jury awarded the settlement to Eric Brody, now 29. More than a decade ago, Brody, then a high school senior, was turning left into his Sunrise subdivision when a BSO cruiser stuck the car, leaving Brody severely brain-damaged and bound to a wheelchair.

Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Brandon, and Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, are sponsoring the legislation that Brody needs passed to collect from BSO.

But after nearly an hour of debate – and two meeting extensions -- the House Civil Justice & Courts Policy Committee ended its last scheduled meeting of the legislative session without taking a vote. The committee would need special permission from House leadership to set another meeting and revisit the bill.

The bill has yet to receive a hearing in the Senate.

Much of Monday’s debate centered on a provision of the bill that said the Brodys will not attempt to collect directly from BSO. Instead, the family will agree to wait for the law-enforcement agency to pursue a lawsuit against its insurance company that alleges the company acted in bad faith by not settling the Brody case sooner.

However, lawmakers worried that the provision would set a precedent that would allow other families to collect larger settlements from state and other government agencies.

Legislators also were concerned that if BSO were unsuccessful in its attempts to collect from its insurance company, that it would be stuck with a claim that it couldn’t afford.

“If those dollars are taken out of the Broward County sheriff’s office budget, it could have a huge impact on the ability to provide public safety,” said Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa.

The Brodys are one of roughly 20 families hoping to collect more than $55.7 million this year for government-inflicted wrongs. Some lawmakers say the tight budget year will make it difficult for most families to collect.

However, Civil Justice & Courts Policy Committee did sign off on four other claims bills in cases where the money had been set aside previously by state agencies and local governments.