Mark Roman | July 21, 2023 | Firm News
One of the most difficult and frustrating cases injury attorneys encounter involves “sovereign immunity” claims. These are matters where clients are seriously injured or die, as a result of a government agency or its employee’s negligence.
Unlike a typical Florida motor vehicle collision, where the victim’s losses are fully compensable by the at-fault driver, an agency of the state government is only responsible for $200,000 in damages, regardless of the harm caused. And to make it even less feasible to pursue, our state caps attorney’s fees at levels so low that it creates a disincentive to take these cases on. Many lawyers reject these cases.
The chance of recovering more than $200,000 from a sovereign immune entity is very remote, and it almost never happens. The only way to recover more is through an act of state government, known as a “claims bill.”
Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers is happy to report that we just obtained a $3,000,000 recovery from the Pinellas County School Board in a case where our client was catastrophically injured when she was run over by a school bus that left the scene of the injury. It was a hit-and-run. And our client was nearly killed.
Here are the facts.
The Horrific Life-Altering Incident
On February 13, 2019, at about 7 a.m., Maria walked north on 19 following her usual route to work. She had 2 jobs and supported her two daughters. When the light to cross Curlew Road turned green, she entered the crosswalk. She saw a school bus well behind her on U.S. 19 in the right-turn lane. However, she had a “walk” icon on her traffic signal, and she knew she had the right of way. It was raining lightly, and Maria was wearing a bright red jacket and holding a large blue umbrella over her head.
Maria was in the crosswalk when she was run over by a Pinellas County School bus. She threw her arms in front of her face to try and shield herself, but the right front side of the bus hit her squarely. Maria was thrown out of the crosswalk to the pavement. The rear wheels of the bus then ran her over as the bus turned. She was left directly behind the bus in the westbound lanes of Curlew Road, just east of the crosswalk. The entire horrific event was captured on video cameras onboard the bus.
The bus left the scene, and the driver did not report anything unusual. When she was questioned later, the bus driver said she “heard a thump.” However, the driver said she thought she hit the curb, and claimed she didn’t realize she hit a person. She continued to drive to Countryside High School with a bus full of students.
In reality, the driver was not even supposed to be driving in that area. Her route of picking up children for school did not require her to be on U.S. 19 to Curlew Road at all. She testified that she drove through that area on her own initiative to avoid the need for making a left turn into the school. The bus driver was eventually found guilty of failing to exercise due care causing severe bodily injury, was fined, and had her driver’s license revoked for 3 months. Maria was not so lucky.
Maria’s Life-Altering Injuries
Maria Garcia had multiple life-threatening injuries. She had several unstable pelvic ring fractures. Basically, her pelvic bones were broken into several pieces. She also had fractures in her left and right acetabulum bones in her hip joints. She had several fractures in her lumbar spine and ribs. Several of the rib fractures were comminuted or displaced.
A large area of skin was ripped from her upper leg in a “degloving” injury. She had damage to the posterior cruciate ligament, and possibly the anterior cruciate ligament, in her right knee. The skin below her knee was also gouged away and became necrotic. Maria suffered internal bleeding and other internal injuries, and her spleen was removed. Her left lung collapsed. She had a fractured left scapula as well.
For a month following the incident, Maria lay immobile in Bayfront’s intensive care unit. She could not sit up and eat and had a tracheotomy. Maria endured multiple surgeries, including open reduction and fixation of her pelvic fractures with two large screws driven into her SI joint. She was given a battery of medications to control her pain.
They harvested an extensive amount of skin from Maria’s back, hip areas, and right buttock which the doctor then surgically grafted it where the skin was ripped off her right upper leg, and another “patch” was grafted below the knee. Maria’s right arm sustained nerve damage which essentially immobilized it.
Maria is right-handed, and this has caused great difficulty writing, gripping objects, or using her right fingers. She had a traumatic brain injury, likely from a posttraumatic stroke, and associated deficits with memory, concentration, executive function, and language skills. Maria spent more than two months in the hospital.
Maria had medical bills of just under $2,000,000 and she lost her ability to work, forever. Her future medical needs may exceed $1,400,000.
Maria never recovered from her injuries. To this day, she limps and has trouble keeping her balance. This is a 43-year-old woman who can now no longer walk more than the length of a room without a walker or other assistance. When she goes to the grocery store or does other shopping, she uses a walker, or a scooter at stores that provide them. Her daughters have been her sole source of support.
Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers takes on the case in spite of the sovereign immunity cap against all odds of significant financial recovery for Maria
Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers took this case on knowing it would be an uphill battle, but it was a battle that needed to be fought. It was Maria’s and her family’s only hope. That hope lay in the chance to obtain a “claims bill” from the Florida House of Representatives and Senate. But any Bill would have to be signed by the Governor. Most thought this was highly unlikely.
Roman Austin filed a lawsuit against the Pinellas County School Board at the end of December 2019. Wishing to avoid a jury trial, the School Board agreed to a Consent Judgment in the sum of $3,000,000 which was entered on May 16, 2022. That was where the road to justice took a fateful turn.
But first Roman Austin retained consultants and lobbyists to shepherd the bill through the halls of our state capitol. Senator Darryl Rouson and Representative Linda Chaney sponsored the respective Senate and House Bills (Senate Bill 4, and House Bill 6017).
On January 27, 2023, Board Certified Civil Trial Attorney Mark Roman and his partner, Trial Attorney John Austin, presented the case in a quasi-judicial setting in Tallahassee with Maria and her family present to testify. After a favorable recommendation by the hearing officers, the bill made its way through several committees in the House and Senate and finally won approval, in all committees, by nearly unanimous votes. Senate Bill 4 was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis on June 9, 2023.
Justice for Maria Garcia
Roman Austin is happy to report that payment was just made in the amount of $3,000,000. Maria Garcia can finally begin to rebuild her life.
Maria was a hard-working mother of two hard-working daughters whose future looked very bleak. She never gave up hope and Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers never stopped believing in her, or her case. Throughout this process, Maria maintained her dignity and her faith. This case is a great example of taking the hard road, not the easy road and fighting relentlessly for justice in the wake of a tremendous loss. We were honored to be chosen to handle this challenging and very important case for a very deserving family.
Maria finally has justice. Maria can now rebuild her life.
Contact the Clearwater Personal Injury Law Firm of Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers for Help Today
For more information, please contact the legal team of Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers for a free initial consultation with a personal injury lawyer in Clearwater. We have five convenient locations in Florida: Clearwater, New Port Richey, and Tampa.
Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – Clearwater Office
1811 N. Belcher Road, Suite I-1
Clearwater, FL 33765
Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – Congress Ave Office
2360 Congress Avenue
Clearwater, FL 33763
Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – Tampa Office
6601 Memorial Hwy Suite 202
Tampa, FL 33615
Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – New Port Richey Office
2515 Seven Springs Blvd.