Joe Gruters calls for $25M from Broward Schools for Parkland victims, families

Florida Politics | By Jesse Scheckner | August 3, 2021

The bill would supersede a court ruling capping liability at $300K.

A bill that would direct the Broward County School Board to pay $25 million to the victims and families affected by the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland is now headed to the 2022 Legislative Session.

The bill, which Republican Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota filed Monday, would supersede a September Florida Supreme Court ruling capping the school board’s liability at $300,000 to be split among all the victims who filed suit.

If approved, the bill would cap the Broward School Board’s compensation to 51 claimants at $25 million, including 34 surviving victims and the families of 14 students and three teachers killed when former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz opened fire at the school Feb. 14, 2018.

They and others many still pursue additional legal damages, including taking part in future “claim” bills against Cruz and other pertinent parties.

Cruz, who still awaits trial for murder, committed the deadliest high school shooting spree in United States history. He used a semiautomatic, AR-15-sytle rifle, which he purchased lawfully about a year before the shooting.

Gruters’ bill rejects a February ruling by Broward Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning that the Broward School Board had no responsibility to warn students and faculty of the danger Cruz posed.

The school board was indeed negligible, the bill says, to the extent that its “personnel had information regarding the risk of Nikolas Cruz committing acts of physical harm and violence toward others but failed to take reasonably appropriate action to protect the campus from (Cruz); were unprepared to deal with repeat trespassers and intruders on campus, such as former students like (Cruz); were unprepared to address armed intruders on campus; failed to prevent (Cruz) from entering the campus and failed to intercept (him) once he did enter; and were unprepared to respond in the event of an active shooter on campus.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed a similar opinion while campaigning in April 2018.

“Cruz in Parkland … could have been arrested and convicted for assault. He could have been arrested and convicted for issuing threats, probably could have been arrested and convicted for other things too — because he was so outrageous in his conduct,” DeSantis said. “And yet time and time again, when they went to his house … 20, 30 times, (they) chose to do nothing. Because the policy was, ‘we don’t want to get this individual in the justice system. It’s not good for statistics.’”

Provided Florida lawmakers OK Gruters’ bill as-is, the Broward School board would have to make the first of three $8.3 million payments within 60 days of the bill’s enactment.

The second payment would have to come no later than a year after the first payment, with the third payment coming no later than a year after the second.

The bill also caps at 25% per claim settlement what claimants would be able to pay in attorney and lobbyist fees.

Calls to Gruters’ office for comment on the bill were not immediately returned.

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