Florida Supreme Court rules against Parkland families

Attorneys for the victims and families argued each gunshot from alleged gunman Nikolas Cruz were separate incidents and that each plaintiff should receive $200,000

Florida's highest court on Thursday capped the amount a school board can be forced to pay the victims and families who filed lawsuits against the district at $300,000 following the 2018 Parkland mass shooting at a high school.

The state Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the Broward County School Board that the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School -- which killed 17 students and staff members and injured 17 others -- should be viewed as a single incident, the Miami Herald reported.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued each gunshot from alleged gunman Nikolas Cruz were separate incidents and that their clients should each receive $200,000. The justices disagreed, saying mass shootings should be viewed as one incident, thereby placing a limit on how much government agencies can be forced to pay under an under a state sovereign-immunity law, according to the newspaper.

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Students are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., during a February 2018 mass shooting that killed 17 students and staff. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court capped compensation at $300,000 for families and victims who filed lawsuits against the Broward County School Board over the incident. 

Students are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., during a February 2018 mass shooting that killed 17 students and staff. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court capped compensation at $300,000 for families and victims who filed lawsuits against the Broward County School Board over the incident.  (AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

“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.”

Their opinions were issued for the Broward County case and a Florida Department of Children and Families case that dealt with similar legal questions about the liability of public agencies in the event of mass shootings, the Herald reported.

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The FDCF case stemmed from a 2010 shooting in which a man fatally shot his wife and her four children and wounded another child in Plam Beach County.

“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,” the court wrote in the Palm Beach County case. “It is a decision that is rendered within the narrow confines of Florida law relating to the Legislature’s limited waiver of sovereign immunity.”