Lawmakers next year will again consider paying $1.5 million to a Tampa Bay area man who suffered life-altering injuries in a gruesome roadway collision nearly two decades ago.
This time, Tallahassee Republican Sen. Corey Simon is championing the cause through a bill (SB 18) he filed this month.
If approved, the measure will bring long-sought relief to Marcus Button and his parents, Mark and Robin Button, for pain, suffering and costs incurred in a 2006 crash with a Pasco County school bus.
Legislative efforts to deliver recompense to the Buttons date back to 2010. None succeeded.
SB 18 is classified as a claims bill or “relief act,” as it is intended to compensate a person or entity for injury or loss due to the negligence or error of a public officer or agency.
Claims bills arise when appropriate damages exceed what is allowable under Florida’s sovereign immunity law, which protects government agencies from costly lawsuits by capping payouts at $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident. For payments beyond those sums, legislative action is necessary.
Marcus Button was 16 on Sept. 22, 2006, when his life forever changed. That morning, his friend, Jessica Juettner, was driving him to Wesley Chapel High School when school bus driver John Kinne pulled out in front of her Dodge Neon on State Road 54. It was later determined Kinne, whose only other passenger was a backup driver, failed to yield the right-of-way.
Juettner slammed on the brakes, but her car still struck the bus between its wheels, slipping underneath the larger vehicle. She suffered minor injuries. Button, who was riding in the front seat and allegedly not wearing a seatbelt, struck the windshield, sustaining facial and skull fractures, brain damage and vision loss.
Emergency responders airlifted Button to St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa, where he spent three weeks recovering. He then spent another six weeks at Tampa General Hospital for rehabilitation.
Button returned home in November 2006, his road to recovery arduous and incomplete. He had to relearn how to walk and today can’t walk for “any substantial length of time without pain,” Simon’s bill says. The vision in his right eye is mostly gone. He can no longer smell, and there have been drastic changes to his ability to taste food or feel textures.
Further, he now speaks with a British accent due to foreign accent syndrome, a speech disorder associated with traumatic brain injury. He also endures visual and auditory hallucinations that contribute to chronic paranoia.
In a 2013 interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Button related how he sometimes sees camels walking beside him and that he once caressed a dead pet cat named Kiki who rubbed against his leg.
“An ability to control impulses means he can’t go to theme parks or other crowded places without trying to fight with strangers who accidentally brush up against him,” the Times reported. “He can’t be taken to the grocery store without propositioning women. Once, Marcus went a month without brushing his teeth. His mother … now puts up signs to remind him.”
Button’s parents sued the Pasco County School Board in 2007 for negligence. Judge Susan Gardner Barthle presided over the case. During the trial, Robin Button testified that her son, “who woke up (in the hospital) was not the same son I gave birth to. He was, but he wasn’t. It was him, his skin, but it wasn’t him in his skin — different kid. The son I knew is gone. He died that day.”
A pediatric rehabilitation doctor and neuropsychologist testified that Button would require 24-hour care, counseling, intervention, medical care and pharmaceuticals for the rest of his life to cope with his physical symptoms and control his “psychotic and delusional behavior,” the bill says. The doctor noted other issues Button deals with, including memory loss, sleep deprivation and difficulty concentrating.
An economist interviewed during the trial estimated Button’s future care will cost between $6 million and $10 million. His inability to work will result in up to $570,000 in lost wages.
Jurors split responsibility for the crash and Button’s injury among those involved. The six-person panel apportioned 65% of the blame to the Pasco County School Board, 20% to Juettner, who they determined could have avoided the accident if she’d paid more attention while driving, and 15% to Button for allegedly not wearing a seatbelt.
The award to Button and his parents totaled $1.625 million. To date, the School Board has paid about $163,000 of the $200,000 maximum payable to claimants in Florida. Left unpaid is about $1.246 million to Button, who is now in his mid-30s, and $261,149 to his parents.
Simon is the first lawmaker to carry a claims bill on behalf of the Buttons since 2020, when former Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson filed a comparable measure.
Former Republican Sen. Mike Fasano was the first to sponsor the measure during the 2011 Legislative Session, followed by former Republican Sen. Miguel Díaz de la Portilla in 2012 and 2013, and former Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley in 2014, 2015 and 2017.
No version of the measure has ever received a committee hearing.
Florida Politics contacted Simon’s Office for comment but received none by press time.