State mistakes lead to tragedies, but relief often elusive
Janet Pandrea died on April 2, 2002, from complications due to the chemotherapy she received for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
But the 65-year-old woman did not have cancer. A jury found Coral Springs Medical Center liable for the mistake that ultimately killed her. Her husband, Charles Pandrea, was awarded a final judgment of $808,554.78.
But 12 years later, he has not collected.
Under state law, any government entity in Florida has to pay only $200,000 — the rest must be awarded by the state Legislature. During the past session, 27 such claims were sent to the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee. None was ever heard.
This year, 32 such bills have been filed, each representing a tragedy. The cases involve traffic accidents caused by government employees, medical malpractice, exonerated prisoners, and deaths and severe abuse under the watch of government agencies.
Some of the cases:
• Melvin and Alma Colindres are trying for the third time to collect $2,550,000. The couple called Miami police on Dec. 12, 2006, to help with their severely autistic 18-year-old son, Kevin, who had reportedly hit several family members. Although the first officer to respond approached Kevin calmly and quietly, when backup officers arrived, they threw the man on the ground, handcuffed him, and placed weight on his back. Kevin asphyxiated, slipped into a coma, and died on Jan. 7, 2007.
• For the second time, relatives of Victor and Nubia Barahona are trying to collect $3,750,000, the remaining portion of a settlement reached with the Department of Children and Families. The children's adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, were charged with first-degree murder in 2011 after 10-year-old Nubia's body was found in the back of a truck. Her brother, burned by chemicals, was found in the front seat. The twins' aunt and uncle, Ana and Isidro Reyes, had fought for custody of them for five years.
• Manuel Matute, 60, was killed in an accident with a Palm Beach Sheriff's deputy on Oct. 29, 2008. The deputy's vehicle jumped the divider on U.S. 441 and crashed head-on into Matute's Dodge van. His children settled with the Sheriff's Office in 2011, and though the Sheriff's Office paid what was legally required, the state still owes the family $371,850.98.
• Javier Soria was driving his motorcycle along Congress Avenue in West Palm Beach in 2007 when he was sideswiped by a county dump truck, which then dragged Soria and his bike for 12 feet. He suffered "severe head trauma, including a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a right-elbow fracture, deep lacerations requiring wound debridement, multiple abrasions to his face, hands, legs, and arms, upper-back pain, low-back disc herniation, left-hip pain, right-wrist pain, right-shoulder pain, and a right-knee linear tear" according to his claims bill. Soria has years of surgery and therapy before him. He is still owed $100,000.
• The city of Jacksonville had been told multiple times about a rotting tree that needed to be cut down. A branch fell off on June 27, 2011, and crushed a 15-year-old boy, paralyzing him. The city settled with the boy's family, and a $3.3 million claims bill has been filed for the second time.
• Near Tallahassee, a 14-month-old girl was taken from her parents by the state and placed with a great uncle and aunt in 1995. A year later, the uncle was charged with sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl. A year after that, he was placed on the sex offender registry, yet he was allowed to have unsupervised contact with the little girl, then 3. The girl ran away in 2005 after years of abuse. The girl, known only as "L.T." in the claims bill, is trying to get $800,000 from the Legislature.
During the last legislative session, then-Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said the claims bill process needed reform. According to several Senate colleagues, because of this belief, Gaetz prevented any claims bills from being heard.
Whether these bills will be heard in the upcoming session is up to incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and incoming Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.
Diaz de la Portilla himself filed several claims bills for the upcoming session, including that of Pandrea. The senator did not respond to multiple interview requests.
For Janet Pandrea's family, the fight seems endless.
Each year on April 2, Charles and Janet Pandrea's four children take out a paid obituary. This year's read, "Dear Mom, It's been 12 years without you, but we know you are with us and watching over us every day. We miss you and think of you daily. Thanks for all your love. Love, your family."
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