Two former Palm Beach County high school students — one who was horrifically injured when a tire exploded in his shop class at Seminole Ridge High School — are poised to get money from the School Board to pay for their injuries.
In a lopsided vote of 117-2, the Florida House on Wednesday gave the final nod to an unusual bill that directs the School Board to pay Dustin Reinhardt $4.7 million for injuries he sustained in the 2013 explosion in his auto shop class. Now 20 and living in an assisted living facility, Reinhardt lost an eye and suffered severe brain damage in the accident. The Loxahatchee resident already has received $300,000 from the school district.
The bill also allows the School Board to pay $790,000 to Altavious Carter, who broke his neck in a 2005 traffic accident caused by a school bus driver. Carter, now 25, was a 14-year-old freshman basketball standout at the former Summit Christian School when the crash occurred.
Since the Florida Senate passed the measure 31-5 on Monday, the bill is headed to Gov. Rick Scott for his approval.
In Florida, the Legislature must approve any payments over $300,000 — sometimes less depending when the injury occurred — before taxpayer-backed agencies can pay people harmed by government wrongdoing. The measures are known as claims bills.
In addition to awarding money to the two young men, the Legislature also ordered the Florida Department of Children and Families to pay $3.75 million to Victor Barahona. He was was found near death in a van along Interstate 95 in West Palm Beach in 2011. Sprayed with pesticides, with chemical burns covering his body, he was alongside the decomposing body of his twin sister, Nubia.
Officials at DCF admitted ignoring years of evidence of severe abuse and neglect at the children’s Miami home. The adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, are awaiting trial on murder and attempted murder charges.
Former state Sen. J. Alex Villalobos, a lawyer who now works as a lobbyist, persuaded the Legislature to combine what had been two separate bills into one measure for Reinhardt and Carter. In his 25 years of watching the Legislature, he said he has never seen it combine two claims bills. Without it, he said it is likely Carter, who in 2010 was awarded $1 million for his injuries by a Palm Beach County jury, would have been forced to wait yet another year, hoping lawmakers would act.
Attorney Brian Denney, who represented Carter, said he was pleased the bill passed both chambers. But, having waited seven years, he said he wasn’t celebrating until Scott’s signature is affixed to the measure.
Reinhardt’s parents weren’t immediately available for comment. In the past, they have said that because their son lost parts of his brain that control reasoning and judgment, he likely will need someone to supervise day-to-day living for the rest of his life.
But despite his obstacles, his father, Scott, has said he remains the optimistic kid who once dreamed of being a mechanic or driving a long-haul truck. “He is — 99.9 percent of the time — cheerful, upbeat and looking forward to the next moment in his life,” Reinhardt said in an interview in January. “That’s just Dustin.”
Carter, who also played at Grandview Prep, earned a college scholarship to play basketball. But, medical experts said, the injuries he suffered will force him to have additional surgery as he ages.
With two days left in the legislative session, a former Wellington youth, identified only has CHM, is still waiting to see if the Legislature will pass a bill that would allow him to recover $5 million from DCF. A jury in 2013 agreed the state child welfare agency was negligent when it failed to warn his parents that a foster child they brought into their home was a predator.
The money is to help CHM deal with psychological problems he suffers as a result of being sexually assaulted by the foster child, also the victim of horrific abuse.
This year appears to be a good one for claims bills. In some recent legislative session, none have been approved.