For the second year in a row, the Florida Legislature is poised to finish a session without awarding any of the legal damages owed to the surviving victim of one of the most horrific child abuse cases in state history.
Victor Barahona, the surviving twin brother of Nubia Barahona, was found near death and covered with pesticides alongside his sister’s decomposing body on Interstate 95 in Palm Beach County in 2011. They were 10 years old.
The twins had been sexually abused, starved and forced to sleep in a bathtub for years by the foster parents who adopted them, Jorge and Carmen Barahona. They were ordered to eat cockroaches and consume food that contained feces and, despite numerous complaints to the child abuse hotline and warnings from teachers, the state failed to stop their parents from routinely beating and binding them inside their West Miami-Dade home.
A report commissioned by David Wilkins, then secretary of the Department of Children and Families, found that the agency’s "failure in common sense, critical thinking, ownership, follow-through, and timely and accurate information-sharing" defined the care of Nubia and Victor.
In 2013, the agency conceded it was at fault and agreed to pay Victor $5 million to settle a lawsuit filed on Victor’s behalf. The department said it would pay $1.25 million to Victor immediately, money from a risk-management fund used to cover liability. But the agency can't pay the rest without legislative approval of a "claim bill."
Under state sovereign immunity laws, the state is shielded from having to pay more than $200,000 when it injures someone, unless the Legislature agrees to lift the cap and authorize the payment. But because of a decision by Senate leadership, the Legislature won’t pay the Barahona bill and, potentially, a host of other claim bills even though the state is at fault.