Florida Senate - 2016 (NP) SB 26 By Senator Negron 32-00144-16 201626__ 1 A bill to be entitled 2 An act for the relief of L.T.; providing an 3 appropriation to compensate L.T. for injuries and 4 damages sustained as a result of the negligence of 5 employees of the Department of Children and Families, 6 formerly known as the Department of Children and 7 Family Services; providing for a waiver of specified 8 lien interests held by the state; providing a 9 limitation on the payment of fees and costs; providing 10 an effective date. 11 12 WHEREAS, on August 15, 1995, the Department of Children and 13 Families removed 14-month-old L.T. and her infant brother from 14 their mother’s custody because they were not receiving adequate 15 care, and 16 WHEREAS, the Department of Children and Families 17 temporarily placed the children into the home of the children’s 18 great aunt and uncle, Vicki and Eddie Thomas, and 19 WHEREAS, a background check that was conducted shortly 20 after L.T. and her brother were placed in the Thomases’ home 21 indicated that Mr. Thomas had once been convicted of a 22 misdemeanor and possession of narcotics equipment, and 23 WHEREAS, the background check also revealed that Ms. Thomas 24 had been charged with, but apparently not convicted of, larceny, 25 and 26 WHEREAS, the background check did not reveal any prior 27 history of violence, sex offenses, or child abuse, and 28 WHEREAS, the Department of Children and Families conducted 29 a home study, interviews, and an investigation, concluded that 30 the Thomases were capable of providing a safe and loving home 31 for L.T. and her brother, and approved the placement, and 32 WHEREAS, on August 21, 1996, approximately 1 year after 33 L.T. and her brother had been placed in the Thomases’ home, Mr. 34 Thomas was charged with committing a lewd and lascivious act on 35 a child under the age of 16, and 36 WHEREAS, the alleged victim was the 13-year-old daughter of 37 a woman with whom Mr. Thomas was having an extramarital affair, 38 and the state later amended the charge to add a count for sexual 39 battery on a child by a familial or custodial authority, and 40 WHEREAS, after two hung jury trials in January and March of 41 1997, Mr. Thomas pled no contest in April 1997 to committing a 42 lewd, lascivious, and indecent act on a child under the age of 43 16, and 44 WHEREAS, Mr. Thomas was sentenced to 5 years’ probation and 45 required to attend sex offender classes and register as a sex 46 offender, and 47 WHEREAS, on May 9, 1997, 1 month after Mr. Thomas entered 48 his plea and was convicted of a child sex crime, the Department 49 of Children and Families recommended, and the judge approved, an 50 order allowing Mr. Thomas to return home and have unsupervised 51 contact with the children, and 52 WHEREAS, although the policies of the Department of 53 Children and Families barred Mr. Thomas from being able to adopt 54 a child because of his conviction for a sex act with a child and 55 his sex offender status, the policies did not prohibit the 56 continued placement of L.T. and her brother in the Thomases’ 57 home, and so the children remained with the Thomases, and 58 WHEREAS, the Department of Children and Families 59 subsequently recommended to the court the permanent, long-term 60 placement of L.T. and her brother in the Thomases’ home and 61 further recommended that the children be removed from protective 62 services, with no further supervision by the department, and 63 WHEREAS, on March 3, 2000, following the recommendation of 64 the Department of Children and Families, the court approved L.T. 65 and her brother’s long-term placement with the Thomases and 66 removed the children from continued protective services, and 67 WHEREAS, on March 24, 2003, an abuse hotline call to the 68 Department of Children and Families reported that L.T. was being 69 abused by Mr. Thomas and that both Mr. and Ms. Thomas were using 70 drugs in the children’s presence, and 71 WHEREAS, the next day, a child protective investigator with 72 the Department of Children and Families interviewed L.T. and her 73 brother while in the presence of Ms. Thomas, and neither child 74 was asked to be interviewed outside Ms. Thomas’s presence, and 75 WHEREAS, L.T. and her brother denied the abuse allegations 76 while Ms. Thomas watched and listened to them, and 77 WHEREAS, results from new background checks and drug 78 screens were negative, and the Department of Children and 79 Families concluded that L.T. and her brother were not at risk of 80 abuse and closed the case, and 81 WHEREAS, on February 24, 2005, L.T. ran away from the 82 Thomases’ home and was found by law enforcement officers, and 83 WHEREAS, L.T. ran away from home because she had been 84 repeatedly sexually and physically abused by Mr. Thomas and 85 physically, verbally, and emotionally abused for years by Ms. 86 Thomas, and 87 WHEREAS, L.T. and her brother were finally removed from the 88 Thomases’ home in 2005, and 89 WHEREAS, since her removal from the Thomases’ home, L.T. 90 has been the subject of repeated Baker Act proceedings and 91 suicide attempts and has been in and out of inpatient and 92 outpatient psychiatric facilities, and 93 WHEREAS, L.T. has been seen and treated by physicians and 94 mental health care professionals who have diagnosed her with 95 depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and 96 other disorders attributed to her trauma, and 97 WHEREAS, although L.T. struggles with the symptoms of 98 posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, she 99 attends a university in this state and supports herself with 100 part-time employment as she works toward her goal of becoming a 101 mental health care professional to help children who have been 102 abused, neglected, or traumatized, and 103 WHEREAS, a lawsuit was brought on L.T.’s behalf in state 104 and federal courts alleging negligence pursuant to s. 768.28, 105 Florida Statutes, and civil rights violations pursuant to 42 106 U.S.C. s. 1983, and 107 WHEREAS, the civil rights claims were disposed of by the 108 trial court, but the negligence claims continued to be 109 litigated, and a jury trial of the case was set in Leon County, 110 and 111 WHEREAS, the parties attended a court-ordered mediation and 112 on June 21, 2010, the parties agreed to a mediated settlement 113 under which L.T. will receive $1 million, $200,000 of which has 114 been paid, and 115 WHEREAS, the Department of Children and Families supports 116 the passage of this claim bill for the unpaid portion of the 117 settlement, which totals $800,000, NOW, THEREFORE, 118 119 Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida: 120 121 Section 1. The facts stated in the preamble to this act are 122 found and declared to be true. 123 Section 2. There is appropriated from the General Revenue 124 Fund to the Department of Children and Families the sum of 125 $800,000 for the relief of L.T. for the injuries and damages she 126 sustained. 127 Section 3. The Chief Financial Officer is directed to draw 128 a warrant in the sum of $800,000, payable to a special needs 129 trust created for the exclusive use and benefit of L.T., upon 130 funds in the State Treasury to the credit of the Department of 131 Children and Families, and the Chief Financial Officer is 132 directed to pay the same out of such funds in the State Treasury 133 not otherwise appropriated. The trust shall be administered by 134 an institutional trustee that L.T. chooses and shall terminate 135 upon L.T.’s 30th birthday, at which time the remaining principal 136 shall revert to her, or if she predeceases the termination of 137 the trust, the principal shall revert to her heirs, 138 beneficiaries, or estate. 139 Section 4. It is the intent of the Legislature that all 140 lien interests held by the state resulting from the treatment 141 and care of L.T. for the occurrences described in this act are 142 waived. 143 Section 5. The amount awarded pursuant to the waiver of 144 sovereign immunity under s. 768.28, Florida Statutes, and the 145 amount awarded under this act are intended to provide the sole 146 compensation for all present and future claims arising out of 147 the factual situation described in this act which resulted in 148 the injuries and damages to L.T. The total amount paid for 149 attorney fees, lobbying fees, costs, and other similar expenses 150 relating to this claim may not exceed 25 percent of the total 151 amount awarded under this act. 152 Section 6. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law.