House panel approves $750K to man injured in Orange County wreck - Florida Politics

House panel approves $750K to man injured in Orange County wreck

A House of Representatives panel approved a bill that would award $750,000 from Orange County to a man injured when his motorcycle was struck by a county work van in 2006.

The award, if it receives ultimate approval by the Florida Legislature, is far less than the $2.9 million awarded to Robert Allan Smith in a 2012 jury trial in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit Court, and less than the $2.8 million requested in a bill approved by the House last year.

But that previous bill failed in the Florida Senate, and the claim amount has since been reduced through settlements in the past year, according to the sponsor of HB 6517, state Rep. Bob Cortes, an Altamonte Springs Republican.

Democratic state Sens. Victor Torres and Linda Stewart of Orlando are sponsoring the Florida Senate companion bill, SB 54.

Smith was injured on a residential street in the College Park neighborhood of Orlando when his motorcycle was struck by an Orange County government van. Smith wound up losing most of his right leg and fractured his lift fibula, foot and pelvis. He incurred more than a half-million dollars in medical bills, though most of that was paid by health care coverage, and continues to have medical problems and costs from the crash, including annual replacement or maintenance of his prosthetic leg, according to a special master’s report provided to the House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee.

Smith sued Orange County. A jury found the van driver to be 67 percent responsible, and Smith 33 percent responsible, and recommended a judgment of more than $4.8 million. The court ultimately ruled for a $2.9 million judgment. Orange County paid the first $100,000, with the rest of the claim going to the Florida Legislature.

Orange County contended the accident was 75 percent Smith’s fault, but House Special Master Jordan Jones sided with the court, and called the $750,000 claim, “reasonable.”

The bill also agrees to waive the state’s Medicaid claims against Smith, and limits attorney and lobbyist fees.

If the bill passes, Orange County would pay the settlement largely from its self-insured retention fund, and partly from an excess insurance policy.

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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