Seven years after a Florida state trooper’s careless U-turn resulted in a four-car pileup that severely injured three small boys, state lawmakers are expected to again consider paying the boys’ mother the remaining balance of a nearly three-year-old, $18 million settlement.
Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley of Ocala filed a claims bill Monday that, if approved next year, would direct the Florida Department Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to pay about $16.9 million to Christeia Jones as compensation for injuries she and her sons sustained in May 2014.
Jones sued the Florida Highway Patrol in 2017, alleging negligence caused her sons’ extensive injuries. She also sued the agency the next year for injuries she herself had sustained in the crash.
On Nov. 30, 2018, Jones and the Florida Highway Patrol entered into a settlement agreement for $18 million, the amount both parties agreed a jury could have reasonably awarded her if the case had gone to trial.
The settlement required the Florida Department of Financial Services to pay Jones $285,000 in accordance with the state’s sovereign immunity laws, which protect government entities, including law enforcement agencies, from expensive lawsuits.
The balance of the settlement — $17.715 million, from which Jones would get roughly $16.9 million after paying outstanding Medicaid liens tied to her sons’ treatments — must be authorized by Florida legislators through a claim bill.
The money, which would come from the state general fund, would be “the sole compensation for all present and future claims” linked to the accident, the bill said.
On the night of May 18, 2014, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Raul Umana, then 20, tried to cross through a median gap onto the southbound lanes of Interstate 75 south of Ocala. He misjudged the turn, and his vehicle struck a guardrail before cutting into oncoming traffic, striking a car Jones, then 28, was driving.
Her three sons were in the car with her — D.M., then 7; L.M., then 5; and L.G., who was 2 at the time and secured in a forward-facing infant seat.
After Umana’s vehicle collided with Jones’ car, an 18-wheel semitractor trailer slammed her car from behind, crushing the trunk and rear seating where the boys sat and propelling the car off the road, where it struck a tree and caught fire.
All three children were airlifted to University of Florida Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville.
L.G. suffered severe traumatic brain injury, extensive facial fractures, pulmonary edema and respiratory failure. Today, he continues to receive weekly speech therapy but “struggles with expressive and receptive language … left-side body weakness and behavior difficulties,” the bill said.
Dr. Paul Kornberg, a Tampa-based pediatric medicine and rehabilitation specialist, said the damage done to L.G.’s motor, perceptual, communicative, cognitive and behavioral functions are permanent and will prevent him from achieving gainful employment.
Kornberg added that the boy has a high risk of developing seizures in the future, will require mechanical aid for long-distance mobility by age 30 and will likely require future surgeries, adult guardianship and attendant care.
D.M. was diagnosed with severe traumatic brain injury and a subcutaneous tissue scalp laceration that required surgery. He remained hospitalized for two weeks before being transferred to Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital.
He continues to receive occupational, physical and speech therapy. Kornberg gave D.M. a prognosis similar to his younger brother, including that the boy will be require long-term adult care.
L.M. was diagnosed with a Glasgow Coma Scale of 7, denoting a severe traumatic brain injury with a high overall mortality rate, as well as head and shoulder injuries that required surgery and a facial laceration that a plastic surgeon repaired on-site prior to his discharge four days later.
Since the accident, the boy has suffered night terrors and changes in behavior and temperament, which Orlando-based neuropsychologist Dr. Patrick Gorman attributed to post traumatic stress disorder and significant neurocognitive difficulties secondary to traumatic brain injury.
Combined, the three children’s medical bills have exceeded $520,600 onto which Medicaid asserted $254,522 in liens.
Dr. Michael Shahnasarian, a psychologist and president of Tampa-based rehabilitation practice Career Consultants of America, estimated it will cost Jones a combined $12.5 million to cover the future medical care for L.G. and D.M., who each have lost up to $2.8 million in earning capacity over their lifetimes.
Umana, who received a careless driving ticket for his role in the 2014 crash, remained employed as a Florida Highway Patrol officer as recently as December 2019, when a state investigation cleared him of fault in the vehicular death of a 73-year-old pedestrian in Marion County.
Florida Politics reached out to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to confirm whether Umana still works for Florida Highway Patrol but has not yet received a response.
Baxley is the Florida lawmaker to most recently sponsor a claim bill that would provide Jones and her family compensation beyond the $285,000 the state has already paid out.
Democratic Sen. Victor Torres Jr. of Orlando filed an identical bill for consideration during the 2021 Legislative Session, but it died before reaching a final vote.
The year before, Republican former Sen. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs backed a similar bill that would have compensated Jones with $9 million. That bill died in appropriations.
Baxley did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
August 5, 2021 at 3:52 pm
Dr Patrick Gorman received how much for his diagnosis. Medical mafia. $10,000,000 overpayment.
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