An initial lawsuit was filed against the Parkland School district by a group of survivors and families of some of those killed in the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. That case was dismissed by a federal court judge who ruled that the plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment right to due process had not been violated.
Another lawsuit was then filed by a different group of plaintiffs in state court against the school district, the Broward County Sheriff and the Broward Coward himself, Scot Peterson. In that lawsuit, the plaintiffs tried to make the case that each round fired by the shooter that day constituted a separate shooting as a way around the state’s sovereign immunity limits.
From the Miami Herald:
…attorneys for families and victims contended that the shots were separate occurrences and that each plaintiff filing a claim against the school board should be able to receive $200,000.
But the Florida Supreme court didn’t buy that argument. In a unanimous ruling today . . .
…[T]he court said mass shootings should be viewed as a single “incident or occurrence,” effectively placing a sharp limit on how much government agencies can be forced to pay under a state sovereign-immunity law. …
“The phrase ‘same incident or occurrence’ is most reasonably understood as referring to the criminal event as a whole, not to the smaller segments of time and action that make up the crime against each individual victim, because this is the way that we commonly talk about this type of tragic occurrence — as a single event with multiple victims,” the ruling said. “Additionally, this reading fits most naturally given the context of [a subsection of the law], which is designed to limit the state’s liability to a set amount for all claims arising out of an ‘incident or occurrence,’ after which all claimants must seek additional compensation from the Legislature.”
As a result, the Parkland plaintiffs maximum award is limited to a total of $300,000 split among the all of the plaintiffs. As the court wrote . . .
Today’s decision in no way devalues the lives of those injured or killed as a result of mass shootings, or the harm suffered as a result of such tragedies. It is a decision that is rendered within the narrow confines of Florida law relating to the Legislature’s limited waiver of sovereign immunity. Further, nothing precludes the parties from seeking a claims bill from the Legislature for compensation in excess of the sovereign immunity damage caps in subsection….
In order for the plaintiffs to collect more than the $300,000 maximum, they . . .
would need to convince the Legislature to pass what are known as “claim” bills. In such bills, the Legislature can direct government agencies to pay more than what is allowed under sovereign-immunity law.
That is, by its nature, a difficult hill to climb.