TALLAHASSEE (AP) – A girl left permanently disabled because of a botched child abuse investigation would be guaranteed only a fraction of a $26 million jury verdict against the state under a bill that will now go to the House floor.
Marissa Amora, now 9, would get only $1.2 million this year under a bill that was approved by a House panel on April 21. The Department of Children & Families, however, has promised to make the amount $18.2 million over 10 years, but the Legislature annually would have to put each payment into the state budget.
Marissa had been hospitalized as a toddler because she couldn't walk. A Miami hospital notified child welfare officials after discovering an unexplained broken collar bone, but she was returned to her mother in Palm Beach County.
Less than a month later, she was severely beaten and now will require constant care for the rest of her life.
“She's like a 95-pound baby,'' said Rep. Marti Coley, the bill's sponsor.
Marissa’s mother's boyfriend was suspected of abusing her, but he returned to his native Haiti and wasn't prosecuted.
Marissa now lives with her adoptive parents in Marianna, a small Panhandle town. They sued the Department of Children & Family Services for negligence.
In 2005, a Palm Beach County jury found the state should pay $26 million to the girl. The department already has paid $100,000, the maximum allowed under state law without approval by the Legislature through passage of a claims bill.
Lawmakers are free to appropriate a different amount after conducting their own investigation. As originally drafted, the bill (HB 443) would have paid Marissa $18.2 million in annual installments over 11 years. The bill cites state experts who determined a life care plan could be developed for Marissa at a lower cost than the jury's figure.
Facing a tight budget year, however, the Policy and Budget Council reduced that number to $1.2 million this year. Department of Children & Families officials have promised to include the remaining installments of $1.7 million each in their annual budget requests for the next 10 years, said Coley, R-Marianna. But Coley acknowledged there's no guarantee Marissa will get the rest.
A similar bill (SB 46) is awaiting final committee action in the Senate.