ORLANDO, Fla. - 9 Investigates learned that a multi-million dollar verdict against Orange County Government still hasn't been paid almost five years after a jury rendered it in part because state lawmakers must first approve the award.
Channel 9’s Michael Lopardi found out that many claim bills involving court awards against government entities aren't passed in the state legislature.
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Robert Smith, 43, was once a motorcycle enthusiast, but his days of riding abruptly ended in 2006 when his bike collided with a county van in Orlando's College Park neighborhood.
The county employee who was driving the van was cited for failure to yield after stopping.
"There was a stop sign. I didn't have a stop sign. It's pretty simple," Smith said. "My pelvis was broken in three places, (my) right leg was amputated above the knee."
Smith sued the county and a jury in 2012 ruled in his favor. But it also found him one-third at fault for the crash.
The court awarded him about $2.9 million for injuries, suffering and lost wages. But he’s still waiting on most of that money.
The situation might have been different if the case involved a company because state law caps how much governmental agencies can pay for negligence claims. It was $100,000 at the time.
Exceeding the cap requires legislative approval through what is known as a claim bill.
"It's Rob's time for justice because he has not seen a penny's worth of justice up to this point,” said David Moffett, Smith's attorney.
Smith’s claim bill was filed during the 2017 regular session. It passed the House of Representatives but never made it to the Senate floor.
Orange County opposed the bill and claimed that Smith was at fault for speeding.
"There was a lot that was taken away that I can't get back," Smith said.
9 Investigates obtained state records that indicate that 48 percent of all claim bills filed last session were passed into law.
The passage rate is even lower during previous legislative sessions. For instance, 15 percent of the bills introduced in 2016 became law.
The process includes an independent review completed by a special master, whose recommendation was in Smith’s favor.
Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs, who sponsored Smith’s bill, said that the process encourages parties to reach a settlement. That increases the chance of passage while weeding out claims that lack merit, he said.
"It's a tough process," Cortes said. "It's a difficult process."
In the more than 10 years since the crash, Smith moved to Lakeland for more affordable rent and had to go back to school to learn a new job.
"This is a life changing issue,” Smith said. "I lost my leg and (spent) seven months in the hospital. (The) whole rest of my life is different."
Orange County declined Channel 9's request for an on-camera interview. The county has paid Smith the maximum $100,000.
Cortes filed a new bill last week for the 2018 legislative session that would require the county to pay Smith $750,000 and the state to waive some of his medical expenses.
Smith’s attorney said that he hopes to further negotiate the measure with the county.
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