Florida Senate - 2023 (NP) SB 22 By Senator Bradley 5-00102-23 202322__ 1 A bill to be entitled 2 An act for the relief of Julia Perez by the St. Johns 3 County Sheriff’s Office; providing for an 4 appropriation to compensate Julia Perez for personal 5 injuries and damages sustained as a result of the 6 negligence of an employee of the St. Johns County 7 Sheriff’s Office; providing legislative intent for the 8 waiver of certain lien interests; providing a 9 limitation on compensation and the payment of attorney 10 fees; providing an effective date. 11 12 WHEREAS, at 5:09 p.m. on April 7, 2019, Julia Perez, then 13 51 years of age, and her companion, Tom Eiland, then 59 years of 14 age, were both wearing helmets and lawfully operating separate 15 motorcycles within the posted speed limit, traveling east on 16 State Road 16 in the correct travel lane in unincorporated St. 17 Johns County, and 18 WHEREAS, at the same time, Deputy Brandon Hetzler, then 28 19 years of age, a newly sworn employee of the St. Johns County 20 Sheriff’s Office (SJSO), acting in the course and scope of his 21 employment, was operating a marked SJSO patrol vehicle and 22 traveling west on State Road 16 in the left turn lane at the 23 intersection of State Road 16 and Harvest Lane, and 24 WHEREAS, the afternoon sky was clear, the road was dry, and 25 there were no obstructions when Deputy Hetzler suddenly entered 26 the intersection of State Road 16 and Harvest Lane and attempted 27 a left turn directly in front of both motorcycles operated by 28 Ms. Perez and Mr. Eiland, and 29 WHEREAS, the front right side of Deputy Hetzler’s vehicle 30 collided with the front of Ms. Perez’s motorcycle, ejecting Ms. 31 Perez from her motorcycle, with her making contact with the hood 32 of the patrol car and propelling over the roof, striking the 33 trunk before she landed on the pavement of State Road 16, and 34 WHEREAS, the front right side of Deputy Hetzler’s vehicle 35 collided with the left side of Mr. Eiland’s motorcycle, ejecting 36 Mr. Eiland from his motorcycle and onto the pavement, and 37 WHEREAS, the Florida Highway Patrol’s traffic crash 38 investigators conducted an extensive investigation of the 39 accident, which included preparation for a traffic homicide 40 reconstruction due to Ms. Perez’s grave condition, and 41 WHEREAS, witnesses on the scene told investigators that at 42 the time of the crash, the eastbound traffic had a steady green 43 signal and that Ms. Perez and Mr. Eiland had the right of way, 44 and 45 WHEREAS, the investigation revealed that Deputy Hetzler had 46 overheard a service call and was responding to it but he did not 47 activate his siren or emergency lights, and 48 WHEREAS, the investigation determined that the actions of 49 Ms. Perez and Mr. Eiland were reasonable and did not contribute 50 to or cause the collisions, and 51 WHEREAS, the Florida Highway Patrol investigation found 52 Deputy Hetzler to be solely at fault in the accident and issued 53 him a traffic citation for failure to yield to oncoming traffic 54 in violation of s. 316.122, Florida Statutes, and 55 WHEREAS, SJSO policy 61.16 states, “It shall be the 56 responsibility of each employee to operate agency vehicles 57 efficiently, maintain the vehicle, and drive the vehicle in 58 observance of all rules of the road in order to reduce the 59 likelihood of traffic crashes or injury,” and 60 WHEREAS, SJSO policy 61.16 also states, “All crashes and 61 incidents involving agency vehicle damage shall be reviewed by 62 the Traffic Crash Review Board within thirty days of the crash,” 63 and 64 WHEREAS, the SJSO Traffic Crash Review Board found Deputy 65 Hetzler to be at fault for causing the crash and injuries, and 66 WHEREAS, Deputy Hetzler’s negligence was the sole cause of 67 the collision, and 68 WHEREAS, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office admitted 69 negligence for causing the collision and liability for Ms. 70 Perez’s injuries, and 71 WHEREAS, Ms. Perez suffered multiple open and comminuted 72 fractures of the pelvis, arms, and legs, as well as organ 73 lacerations and punctures, including a punctured left lung, 74 resulting in cardiopulmonary arrest due to blood loss, and 75 WHEREAS, Ms. Perez was found unresponsive at the scene of 76 the accident and had to be resuscitated on the street by first 77 responders before St. Johns County Fire Rescue arrived to assume 78 rescue efforts, and 79 WHEREAS, Ms. Perez was intubated in the field and rushed to 80 the Trauma Center at Memorial Hospital Jacksonville, arriving 81 comatose and undergoing a series of blood transfusions, and 82 WHEREAS, Ms. Perez spent 3 months on a ventilator and 83 feeding tube; battled a pulmonary embolism, a deep vein 84 thrombosis, and episodes of pneumonia; suffered at least one 85 myocardial infarction; and endured multiple systemic infections, 86 and 87 WHEREAS, Ms. Perez was unconscious for 3 months and 88 bedridden for 7 months, resulting in two painful bed sores, and 89 WHEREAS, in July of 2019, a nurse reinjured Ms. Perez’s 90 fractured arm while turning her to prevent pressure sores, and 91 WHEREAS, in August of 2019, Ms. Perez’s bladder was 92 inadvertently nicked during a surgery to insert a plate into her 93 pelvis, causing internal bleeding and necessitating a repair 94 surgery, and 95 WHEREAS, Ms. Perez remained hospitalized and was in a 96 nursing home for almost 8 months following the crash, and 97 WHEREAS, being bedridden and immobile has caused Ms. Perez 98 to suffer bowel obstructions, leading to multiple emergency care 99 visits, and 100 WHEREAS, because of blood loss and infection, Ms. Perez has 101 suffered renal tubular necrosis and permanent kidney injury, and 102 WHEREAS, Mr. Eiland has transported Ms. Perez to 103 Jacksonville three times per week for kidney dialysis because 104 she is in chronic, end-stage kidney failure, meaning she will 105 likely either be placed on a kidney donor list as a transplant 106 candidate or be on dialysis for the rest of her life, and 107 WHEREAS, Ms. Perez suffers from incontinence and, due to 108 her dialysis catheter, is unable to shower or bathe, and instead 109 relies on a process of cleaning herself with wet towelettes, 110 which typically takes an hour or longer to complete, and 111 WHEREAS, Ms. Perez suffers from substantial pain when 112 trying to accomplish simple tasks of daily living and 113 experiences interrupted sleep on a nightly basis, and 114 WHEREAS, Ms. Perez suffers from chronic migraine headaches 115 and severe elevated blood pressure, which has resulted in 116 multiple emergency care visits, and 117 WHEREAS, Ms. Perez has suffered a traumatic brain injury as 118 a result of the crash, causing memory loss, confusion, 119 communication difficulties, fatigue, frustration, and 120 depression, and she is under the treatment of a neurologist, and 121 WHEREAS, Ms. Perez has undergone dozens of surgeries and is 122 faced with many more, and past medical bills and liens amount to 123 more than $3,863,108.09 for her care and treatment, all due to 124 injuries resulting from the crash, and 125 WHEREAS, the costs of future medical care, treatment, and 126 equipment is estimated to be between $3,318,811.56 and 127 $4,077,923.57 over the course of her 30-year life expectancy, 128 and 129 WHEREAS, Ms. Perez is totally disabled, and her loss of 130 earning capacity is conservatively estimated to be $282,110, 131 based on her full Social Security retirement age of 67 and a 132 minimum-wage earning capacity, and 133 WHEREAS, Ms. Perez seeks the total sum of $15 million in 134 equitable relief from the Legislature for satisfaction of her 135 injuries and damages, NOW, THEREFORE, 136 137 Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida: 138 139 Section 1. The facts stated in the preamble to this act are 140 found and declared to be true. 141 Section 2. The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office is 142 authorized and directed to appropriate from funds of the county 143 not otherwise encumbered and to pay Julia Perez $15 million, or 144 an alternative amount not to exceed $15 million in the event the 145 parties reach an agreement, to compensate her for the injuries 146 and damages she sustained due to the negligence of an employee 147 of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. 148 Section 3. It is in the intent of the Legislature that all 149 lien interests held by the state, if any, resulting from the 150 treatment and care of Julia Perez for the occurrences described 151 in this act are waived. 152 Section 4. The amount awarded under this act is intended to 153 provide the sole compensation for all present and future claims 154 arising out of the factual situation described in this act which 155 resulted in injuries and damages to Julia Perez. The total 156 amount paid for attorney fees relating to this claim may not 157 exceed 25 percent of the total amount awarded under this act. 158 Section 5. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law.