Proposed $3.2M payment to Monticello woman hurt in state employee crash heads to Senate floor
Image via AP.

Police Tape
Emergency responders had to use the jaws of life.

A Monticello woman permanently injured in a grisly highway crash with a state of Florida employee is closer than ever to receiving the remaining balance of a nearly $3.4 million state settlement.

The Senate Committee on Appropriations unanimously approved legislation (SB 70) Monday by St. Petersburg Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson clearing a $3.175 million payment to Donna Catalano. The bill will now head to the Senate floor.

Catalano suffered serious injuries when Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services employee Donald Burthe caused a near head-on collision in June 2019 near the border between Leon and Jefferson counties.

Rouson’s bill is classified as a “claims bill” or “relief act,” as it is intended to compensate a person or entity for injury or loss caused by the negligence or error of a public officer or agency.

Claims bills arise when appropriate damages exceed what’s allowable under Florida’s sovereign immunity laws, which protect government agencies from costly lawsuits. While legislation has been filed this Session to raise payout caps, state law currently limits what can be paid without legislative action to $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident.

A version of the bill in the House (HB 6509) carried by Miami-Dade County Republican Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin has one more committee hearing left before advancing to a floor vote.

On the afternoon of June 26, 2019, Catalano drove home east on Highway 90 after completing her nursing shift at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.

Burthe was driving in the opposite direction in a department vehicle, which area news outlets described as a 2007 Ford Ranger.

According to a Florida Highway Patrol report, Burthe veered into oncoming traffic while rounding a curve, crashing into Catalano near Still Creek Road.

Both Catalano and Burthe, whom emergency personnel extracted from his vehicle with the jaws of life, were rushed to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.

As detailed in Rouson and Fernandez-Barquin’s bills, the harm to Catalano — including a rib fracture, multiple leg and arm fractures and facial abrasions — was severe, long-lasting and required six surgeries and three months of physical therapy to repair.

“Ms. Catalano now suffers from chronic pain; mental anguish, stress, and anxiety; stiff, aching knees that require her to walk with a cane; an inability to straighten or lift her right arm; and incontinence,” the bills say. “Ms. Catalano can no longer perform traditional nursing duties as a result of these injuries.”

Catalano sued the Agriculture Department July 10, 2020. About a year later, she and the state agreed to a $3.375 million settlement. Of that, the Division of Risk Management paid $200,000 — the maximum allowable without approval from the Legislature.

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government amended the bill to change the source of the remaining payout from the state General Revenue Fund to the General Inspection Trust Fund.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at Jess[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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