Florida Senate - 2023                              (NP)    SB 24
       
       
        
       By Senator Rodriguez
       
       
       
       
       
       39-00101A-23                                            202324__
    1                        A bill to be entitled                      
    2         An act for the relief of C.C. by the Department of
    3         Children and Families; providing an appropriation to
    4         compensate C.C. for injuries and damages sustained as
    5         a result of the negligence of the department;
    6         providing a limitation on compensation and the payment
    7         of certain fees and costs; providing an effective
    8         date.
    9  
   10         WHEREAS, on August 12, 2014, Anna Highland, a resident of
   11  Fort Myers, gave birth to C.C., who was born addicted to
   12  methadone as a result of Ms. Highland’s opiate dependence,
   13  cocaine abuse, and intravenous drug use, and
   14         WHEREAS, at the time of C.C.’s birth, the Department of
   15  Children and Families had significant involvement with Ms.
   16  Highland dating back to 2012, when she was licensed by the
   17  department as a foster parent, and
   18         WHEREAS, due to Ms. Highland’s drug abuse throughout her
   19  pregnancy, C.C. suffered severe withdrawal symptoms after his
   20  birth which required him to be hospitalized for a month in a
   21  neonatal intensive care unit and treated with morphine, and
   22         WHEREAS, within the 6 months before C.C.’s birth, the
   23  department received three separate child abuse hotline reports
   24  against Ms. Highland, including reports alleging that she was
   25  abusing drugs and physically abusing her foster child, and
   26         WHEREAS, the department opened an investigation after
   27  receiving a fourth child abuse hotline report made on August 12,
   28  2014, the day of C.C.’s birth, alleging that Ms. Highland had
   29  tested positive for drugs while pregnant, and
   30         WHEREAS, on September 3, 2014, while the investigation was
   31  pending, the department received two additional child abuse
   32  hotline reports alleging that Ms. Highland was abusing drugs,
   33  and
   34         WHEREAS, despite its receipt of six abuse allegations
   35  within a 7-month period, the department advised the hospital on
   36  September 3, 2014, that there was no hold on C.C. and he was
   37  free to be released to Ms. Highland, and
   38         WHEREAS, on September 6, 2014, C.C. was discharged from the
   39  hospital to Ms. Highland’s care with no intervention and no
   40  services in place to protect him from the potentially dangerous
   41  effects of her drug addiction, and
   42         WHEREAS, on September 23, 2014, the department closed its
   43  investigation with unsubstantiated findings of substance misuse
   44  and a determination that Ms. Highland’s methadone use had no
   45  implications for child safety, and
   46         WHEREAS, on June 3, 2015, and again on August 6, 2015, the
   47  department received two new child abuse hotline reports alleging
   48  that Ms. Highland was abusing the foster child in her care, both
   49  of which the department closed without investigation, and
   50         WHEREAS, on September 12, 2015, when C.C. was 13 months
   51  old, he overdosed on Ms. Highland’s methadone, was found
   52  unresponsive and not breathing, and was rushed to the hospital
   53  in critical condition, where he remained in a coma for 2 weeks
   54  and was hospitalized for 1 month, and
   55         WHEREAS, the department’s investigation of C.C.’s overdose
   56  revealed that Ms. Highland, as well as her mother who was
   57  present, waited 5 hours before seeking medical attention for
   58  C.C. while his condition continued to deteriorate, and
   59         WHEREAS, as a result of the department’s investigation of
   60  the overdose, C.C. was finally removed from Ms. Highland’s care
   61  and placed in the care of his father, and
   62         WHEREAS, as the state agency charged with operating the
   63  child welfare system in this state, including conducting child
   64  protective investigations to ensure child safety and prevent
   65  further harm to children under s. 39.001, Florida Statutes, the
   66  department owed C.C. a duty to ensure his safety and protect him
   67  from further harm, and
   68         WHEREAS, the department failed to protect C.C. from further
   69  harm when it negligently allowed him to be released from the
   70  hospital after his birth to Ms. Highland’s care with no services
   71  or interventions in place to protect him from the potentially
   72  dangerous effects of her drug addiction, and
   73         WHEREAS, the department’s negligence resulted in severe and
   74  permanent injuries to C.C., now 8 years of age, including, but
   75  not limited to, an anoxic brain injury; seizures; strokes and
   76  neurological impairments; permanent hearing, vision, and speech
   77  impediments; cognitive impairment, including memory loss and
   78  learning disabilities; and permanent injuries impacting his
   79  coordination and gross and fine motor skills, requiring lifelong
   80  care, and
   81         WHEREAS, the State of Florida recognizes an equitable
   82  obligation to redress the injuries and damages C.C. sustained as
   83  a result of the negligence of the department and its failure to
   84  exercise its duties to ensure the safety of children in this
   85  state and protect them from further harm, NOW, THEREFORE,
   86  
   87  Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:
   88  
   89         Section 1. The facts stated in the preamble to this act are
   90  found and declared to be true.
   91         Section 2. The sum of $20 million is appropriated from the
   92  General Revenue Fund to the Department of Children and Families
   93  for the relief of C.C. for injuries and damages sustained.
   94         Section 3. The Chief Financial Officer is directed to draw
   95  a warrant in favor of C.C., payable to an irrevocable trust
   96  created for the exclusive use and benefit of C.C., in the sum of
   97  $20 million upon funds of the Department of Children and
   98  Families in the State Treasury, and the Chief Financial Officer
   99  is directed to pay the same out of such funds in the State
  100  Treasury. The trust shall be responsible for payment of attorney
  101  fees and costs, lobbying fees, and other similar expenses
  102  relating to this claim, subject to the limitations set forth in
  103  this act.
  104         Section 4. The amount awarded under this act is intended to
  105  provide the sole compensation for all present and future claims
  106  arising out of the factual situation described in this act which
  107  resulted in injuries and damages to C.C. The total amount paid
  108  for attorney fees and costs, lobbying fees, and other similar
  109  expenses relating to this claim may not exceed 25 percent of the
  110  total amount awarded under this act.
  111         Section 5. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law.