Bill paying $2.2M to Levy man hurt in FDOT motorcycle crash zooms through first committee
Image via GoFundMe.

Mark LaGatta GoFundMe
The man’s claim against FDOT ‘is not disputed,’ the bill’s sponsor said.

A measure clearing $2.2 million in outstanding settlement money to a Levy County man maimed in a motorcycle crash with Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) machinery is now headed to its second House stop.

Members of the House Civil Justice Subcommittee gave unanimous approval to the bill (HB 6001), which would deliver financial relief to Mark LaGatta, who lost his leg in the accident and continues to suffer persistent pain.

LaGatta attended the meeting but was not called upon to speak. He sat in a wheelchair.

His claim against FDOT “is not disputed,” said Lecanto Rep. Ralph Massullo, the measure’s sponsor.

“He sustained injuries that required several weeks of hospitalization, endured a tracheotomy, induced coma and had unfortunately his left leg amputated,” Massullo said. “He was not able to return to (the) career of his choice. He’s living now with the emotional pain and suffering from that injury.”

HB 6001, like its identical Senate companion (SB 12) by Spring Hills Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, is classified as a claims bill or “relief act.” 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 statute, which protects government agencies from costly lawsuits. Under that provision, the state can only pay $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident without approval by the Legislature for larger sums.

Rep. Ralph Massullo, a dermatologist in private life, hopes to make Mark LaGatta financially whole by the end of the 2024 Legislative Session. Image via Colin Hackley/Florida Politics.

LaGatta to date has received just $120,000 of a $2.32 million settlement awarded to him after he sued the state and won in February.

The case stemmed from a July 27, 2020, incident on State Road 24 in Cedar Key. LaGatta was traveling eastward on his motorcycle with his daughter, Faith, sitting behind him as a passenger.

FDOT personnel had established a roadwork zone that day while they repaired damage from a sinkhole. They marked a closed westbound traffic lane with cones, leaving only the eastbound lane open for traffic.

A flagger directing traffic signaled for LaGatta to proceed through the work zone on the eastbound lane. As he motored through, an FDOT employee operating a tractor with a box blade — a three-point attachment used to scrape, smooth and contour land — backed up in front of him and caused a collision.

LaGatta and his daughter both suffered severe injuries, though the father had it far worse, undergoing seven surgeries.

According to a GoFundMe page launched shortly after the accident, Faith LaGatta was hospitalized as well — a detail not included in Massullo and Ingoglia’s legislation — with a broken leg that also required surgery.

Today, LaGatta remains “medically unable to return to his career as a maintenance engineer,” the bill says, adding that the wounds he sustained caused him “pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, mental anguish (and) lost capacity for the enjoyment of life.”

He has also endured financial hardship from the costs of medical and nursing care, treatment, lost earnings and lost future earning capacity, the bill says.

On Feb. 28, 2023, Judge Craig DeThomasis of the 8th Judicial Circuit rendered a final judgment for LaGatta, his daughter and wife, Margo, against FDOT following a civil jury trial. DeThomas awarded the LaGattas $2.32 million in damage, of which FDOT has since paid $120,000.

Upon approval of the measure next year, the Legislature would direct Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis to pay LaGatta the remaining $2.2 million through FDOT. The money would come from the state General Revenue Fund.

Massullo’s bill is to next go to the House Appropriations Committee. Ingoglia’s bill awaits a review by the special master on claim bills before its first hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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 [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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