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Claims bill for Broward man paralyzed in BSO crash 13 years ago moves forward

A Florida Senate panel on Tuesday moved forward a claim to pay $23 million to a Broward man paralyzed after a Broward Sheriff's Office cruiser crashed into his car more than a decade ago.

The 1998 crash left Eric Brody, then 18 years old, paralyzed and brain damaged. In 2005, a jury awarded him more than $30 million. But under state sovereign immunity laws, in order to that kind of money from a government agency, Brody's claim requires a special act by the Legislature.

His family's claims have failed for years in Tallahassee. But the Brodys have kept coming back.

On Tuesday, a Senate committee, with the family's support, amended the claim to $23 million. The bill, SB 42, would enable Brody, who is now 31, to collect the money by allowing BSO to let the family pursue a bad-faith lawsuit against the agency's insurance company.

Brody and his parents, Charles and Sharon, said they were happy and hopeful after Tuesday's hearing.

"People understand the gravity of the situation with Eric," Charles Brody said, standing next to his son, who is in a wheelchair. "We're still optimistic for this year."

The family does oppose an amendment in the bill that would cap attorneys' fees costs and, they say, result in the family's having a difficult time hiring a top-notch lawyer for the bad-faith lawsuit. Such a lawsuit would prevent the family from collecting the money directly from BSO.

In a report for the Senate, a special master warned that the more than $30 million figure was on the high end for other crashes that resulted in similar injuries. The master said Tuesday that $23 million was still too high. He recommended $15 million.

A lobbyist for BSO's insurance company said the agency would prefer to settle the claim directly with the Brodys and cautioned lawmakers about setting a precedent with a $23 million award.

"This is the largest claim bill ever in the history of Florida, and if we are to take this step, we should do it carefully," Peter Antonacci said.

"Eric has been forced to rely on the taxpayer of Florida," said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, the Wellington Republican sponsoring the claims bill. "After 13 years of denied justice, it is time for Eric Brody to be compensated."