Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Friday authorizing a $3.2 million payment to a woman severely injured in a highway crash with a state employee.
The legislation concerns former Monticello nurse Donna Catalano, who in June 2019 was in a near-head-on collision with Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services worker Donald Burthe. The injuries she suffered continue to affect her today, according to twin bills St. Petersburg Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson and Miami-Dade County Republican Rep. Juan Feranandez-Barquin filed during the 2022 Legislative Session.
The Legislature overwhelmingly approved Rouson’s version of the bill (SB 70), which hit DeSantis’ desk Friday. He had until June 4 to sign, veto or allow to become law without his signature in accordance with rules enumerated in the state Legislative Claim Bill Manual.
The 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 Florida’s sovereign immunity laws, which protect government agencies from costly lawsuits. State law currently limits what can be paid without legislative action to $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident.
Catalano sustained grievous injuries on June 26, 2019, when a truck Burthe was driving veered into oncoming traffic and slammed into her car on Highway 90 near the border between Leon and Jefferson counties. Catalano had just finished a nursing shift at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.
As detailed in Rouson and Fernandez-Barquin’s bills, the grisly crash caused significant harm to Catalano, including a rib fracture, multiple leg and arm fractures and facial abrasions. She still suffers from chronic pain, mental anguish, incontinence and is unable to walk without a cane or lift her right arm.
Emergency personnel had to use the jaws of life to remove Burthe from his vehicle. Both were rushed to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, where Catalano underwent numerous surgeries and more than two months of inpatient rehabilitation.
Catalano sued the Agriculture Department on July 10, 2020, and reached a settlement agreement about a year later. The Division of Risk Management has to date paid her $200,000 — the maximum allowable without approval from the Legislature.
“In addition to her permanent injuries and lifelong need for additional medical care, Mrs. Catalano … lost her ability to continue her active lifestyle and her ability to perform services essential to her role as an emergency room nurse,” Rouson said in a brief explanation of his bill last week. “The (Agriculture) Department is not contesting the facts of this case and willingly entered into a settlement agreement to compensate for the medical care, loss of income and past and present medical bills.”