Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Why Children Die (Part II):  Clues in the Claims Bills

It’s that time of year when claims bills are briefly — very briefly — in the news.

Claims bills are the state’s reluctant, belated, grudging way of saying “we’re sorry” for the malfeasance and malpractice that ruined someone’s life. In a functioning system, simple mistakes and honest errors are caught quickly and generally capable of remediation for a sum less than $200,000. That’s the cap on damages that can be paid to an injured person without the legislature’s specific permission in the form of a claims bill.

We do not have a functioning system.

We have, instead, claims bills for victims who’ve spent years stonewalled by taxpayer-funded lawyers working for “leadership teams” whose political skills exceed their managerial competence. Sometimes, if the publicity gets bad enough, the state will admit wrongdoing, spare the victim a jury trial, and support (or pretend to support) a claims bill.

Among the stonewalled is a young man known by his initials, CMH, “to protect his privacy.” His claims bill has been kicking around the Legislature since 2013, when a Palm Beach County jury awarded him $5 million after finding that the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) was worried neither about his privacy nor his safety, when they placed a “predatory” foster child in his home.

CMH was just 9 years old when his parents, good and generous regular suburban people, offered to take one of Florida’s abused and neglected children into their Wellington home. The state employees who handled the handoff knew, but did not tell CMH’s parents, that the older boy had become a ward of the state by reason of the abuse he suffered in his family of origin, and was highly likely to victimize younger children.

And so, he did.

CMH’s claims bill may be approved, and Lord knows he deserves every penny. But there will be more victims, and more claims bills, as long as Florida continues to tolerate its social services Tower of Babel that rewards low-cost, low-skill activities like “filling out forms and bubbling in boxes” and pays no more than lip service to the idea of recruiting and retaining highly competent, highly qualified social workers who would not, on their worst day, unload a child in need of intensive professional help and round-the-clock supervision on an average family in Wellington.

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant. Column courtesy of Politics Florida.

Composite image and layout by the Observer

This piece was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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