David Abbott set up easels with photographs of his father, Carl Abbott of North Palm Beach, on the fourth floor of the Capitol rotunda Wednesday as the clock winds down on the Florida Legislature’s 2013 session.
Abbott says the clock is ticking on his father as well.
Carl Abbott desperately needs the $1.9 million the Palm Beach County School Board agreed to pay him after he was run over by a school bus while walking across U.S. 1 at Anchorage Drive in 2008.
But the state’s “sovereign immunity” laws limit what governments can pay for legal claims to $200,000 unless the Legislature approves a larger amount in a claims bill, and the Legislature has not passed bills filed for Abbott for the past three years.
His doctor, Dr. Pierre Deltor, wrote legislative leaders this year to say Abbott’s “life expectancy will in all likelihood be reduced without it, while with it he could get medical treatment to regain some semblance of a normal life.
The Senate, however, is refusing to act on any claims until the system is reformed and an attempt by a House committee to revamp the system went nowhere this year. The session is scheduled to end Friday.
“Reform is not my issue,” David Abbott said Wednesday. “Getting my dad the help he needs is the issue. It’s my only concern. Reform is going to take years. My dad doesn’t have the time to wait.”
When asked about Abbott’s bill last week, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he was unaware of the specifics of his case but called the 72-year-old man’s condition a perfect example of why reforms are needed.
“That’s tragic. That makes it all the more important that we have a claims bill process that does not rely upon who the lobbyist is or what the emotion is and doesn’t make the Senate into a finder of fact,” Gaetz said.
Critics of the current system, including Gaetz, say it is flawed in part because lobbyists have too much influence – and make too much money – in the process.
David Abbott said he was aware of Gaetz’s opposition to the claims bills process but traveled from Palm Beach County to Tallahassee anyway to make Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, aware of his father’s situation.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” he said. “My dad’s a victim here. He was a victim when he was hit by the school bus. And now he’s a victim because he can’t get the help he needs.”