Arguments set in Parkland liability dispute

Florida Supreme Court justices will hear arguments Thursday at 11 a.m. in the dispute about how much the Broward County School Board could be forced to pay to parents and other victims of last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The issue centers on the state’s sovereign-immunity law, which limits how much government agencies can be forced to pay in lawsuits, and how the liability limits should apply when multiple people are killed or injured in incidents.

The Broward County School Board has argued that the sovereign-immunity law caps at $300,000 its potential liability to the parents and victims in the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at the Parkland high school.

The dispute involves whether that $300,000 limit should be an overall total because the mass shooting was a single incident --- or whether each plaintiff filing a claim against the school board should be able to receive $200,000 because the shots were separate occurrences.

In a filing last year in Broward County circuit court, an attorney for Laura Menescal, whose daughter Daniela was injured in the Parkland school shooting, argued that each shot should be considered separately.

Under the School Board’s position, the only way the parents could receive damages exceeding the $300,000 overall cap would be to convince the Legislature to pass what is known as a “claim” bill. In such bills, the Legislature can direct government agencies to pay more than what is allowed under sovereign-immunity law.

The mass shooting killed 17 students and faculty members and injured at least 17 others. A Broward County circuit judge in December ruled in favor of the School Board, prompting attorneys for Parkland parents and victims to appeal.

The 4th District Court of Appeal in March said the case should go straight to the Supreme Court, a move known as certifying the appeal.