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.