Family of slain Parkland student and other crime victims fight DeSantis-backed lawsuit limit bill

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TALLAHASSEE Fla. — The families of a murdered Orlando college student and a Parkland shooting victim are among those lining up against legal reforms backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, arguing the changes could deny crime victims civil damages and shield businesses and insurers from liability.

Marlon Marcano said the legislation will hurt his efforts to bring accountability for the death of his daughter, Miya, a 19-year-old Valencia College sophomore from Pembroke Pines killed in 2021 by an apartment maintenance worker who had a master key to her apartment.

Marcano wrote a letter to lawmakers urging them to reconsider their position, which he said would undermine safety legislation passed last year called Miya’s Law that required apartment complexes to conduct national background checks on employees.

“It makes it ineffective and basically meaningless,” he wrote.

Tony Montalto, whose daughter, Gina, was killed in the 2018 Parkland school shooting, also is opposed to a change proposed in the bill. Parkland families sued the FBI for botching tips about the shooter and the Broward County school district for negligence, receiving a combined $152.5 million in settlements.

“Shielding entities from liability will harm citizens of this great state,” he told lawmakers during a meeting this week.

A provision dealing with damages will hurt civil cases brought by crime victims, said Todd Michaels, a trial attorney and secretary of the Florida Justice Association, the state’s trial lawyers association.

The bill would allow damages to be assigned to the perpetrator of the crime in negligence cases, which Michaels said would let defendants who could have prevented a crime off the hook by shifting blame to the criminal.

Even after proving that a defendant could have prevented the crime, “they could then say, ‘But don’t blame us. Blame the monster. Blame the criminal. Blame the rapist. Blame the shooter,’” Michaels said. “What this bill would do is allow them to push off their responsibility on the very risk they are supposed to be trying to prevent. The result for victims would be disastrous.”

Supporters of the lawsuit bill say litigation is out of control in Florida, which is driving up insurance premiums and hurting businesses.

DeSantis has called for reforms, saying Florida “has been considered a judicial hell hole due to excessive litigation and a legal system that benefited the lawyers more than the people who are injured.”

The bill also would also create a “presumption against liability” if apartment complexes have security cameras, lighting, locks and peepholes on doors. Supporters say that will make apartments safer, while opponents argue those safeguards are minimal and will stop legitimate claims from moving forward.

State Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, who sponsored Miya’s Law, said she is also supporting the lawsuit bill and working to make additions to the legislation to address apartment safety.

“I like the idea of the apartments having the safety checks,” she said. “I think that is going to be very helpful to cut down on all the abuse.”

Marcano is suing The Preiss Company, which owns the Arden Villas complex where his daughter lived and worked. The suit accuses the company of inadequate safety procedures and failing to properly vet Armando Caballero, a 27-year-old maintenance worker who officials said was responsible for killing Marcano after making unwanted advances toward her.

Caballero was found dead by suicide days before Marcano’s body was discovered in some woods.

The bill also has angered bikers and their lawyers who don’t like a change in how accident damages would be determined. They wore T-shirts that read, “Bikers over Billionaires.”

Under the proposal, someone who is found to be more than 50% at fault in their own accident would be denied damages entirely.

When assigning blame in a crash, jurors could consider whether a biker is wearing a helmet, which isn’t required under Florida law.

Holly Hill, a biker from Sarasota, told lawmakers that she and other bikers who traveled to Tallahassee to voice their opposition feel like they have been betrayed.

“You might notice we belong to a certain demographic, and that’s the demographic that helped you get the supermajority that you enjoy in this Legislature today,” she told lawmakers.

She conveyed some of the conversations she has had in the Capitol hallways.

“What I hear is, ‘I can’t believe this. I voted for these guys, and they are doing this to hurt me.’”