On dark day in Barahona case, care providers would gain legal shieldsby John Kennedy | March 28th, 2011
A measure capping legal damages for agencies providing foster care services cleared a House committee on an 11-3 vote Monday, just hours after prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty for Jorge and Carmen Barahona, the Miami-Dade couple accused of torturing and killing their foster daughter last month.
Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, acknowledged the Barahona case hung heavy over his legislation, adding “evil people do evil things.”
But he said the death of 10-year-old Nubia and near death of her twin brother, Victor, would be best avenged by assuring that agencies can provide better care.
“We have to make sure people like Victor and Nubia are taken care of,” Plakon told the House Health Care budget subcommittee.
Supporters of the bill (HB 1019) said it’s needed to help stem rising liaibility insurance costs, which representatives of several children’s care organizations said are threatening to put them out of business.
But Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale trial lawyer, said, “If there’s an increase in lawsuits, it’s because more kids are being injured.”
Plakon’s proposal would cap financial awards for pain and suffering at between $200,000 and $1 million, and would limit economic damages at $2 million.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, is sponsoring a similar bill (SB 1500). The bills also would lower the amount of liability insurance the agencies must carry from $1 million to $500,000.
The measures also would hold DCF harmless from lawsuits filed against the agencies, which in some cases have topped tens of millions of dollars.
The state’s Department of Children & Families acknowledges the Barahona case stemmed from systemic failures within the agency and a private organization, Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe Inc., which handled their adoption and could be shielded from more costly liability under the legislation.
Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, chairman of the Senate’s Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, is an influential opponent of the legislation.
But Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has tucked the lawsuit protections into the chamber’s omnibus Medicaid bill (SB 1972), which is scheduled for its first hearing Wednesday.