Georgia attorney Bill Mitchell is representing 15-year-old Brazilian national Lidiane Carmo, one of 13 people who have notified the state of their intention to file a lawsuit relating to the crash.
She was riding in a church van and returning with her family to Marietta, Ga., from an Orlando conference when they were involved in the pileup.
The accident killed her father, Jose Carmo Jr., 43, the pastor at a church for Brazilian immigrants; her mother, Adrianna Carmo, 39; her sister, Leticia Carmo, 17; her uncle, Edson Carmo, 38; and her uncle's fiancee, Roselia DeSilva, 41.
Lidiane, who was sleeping in her father's lap, survived. She spent six weeks in the hospital recovering from several broken bones and internal injuries. She has been adopted by an uncle in Georgia and is back in school.
"If the state highway patrol would have done things different, this never would have happened," Mitchell said. "One of the resolutions we're seeking is making sure they're putting things in place so this doesn't happen again."
Mitchell said that when Gov. Rick Scott visited accident victims or their families in the hospital days after the crash, he told them that the state "would do what is necessary to do what is right." But now state officials are telling him and other lawyers to go ahead and sue, rejecting any negotiation overtures.
"We have had preliminary reports come out that say the State of Florida has had significant culpability. I'm surprised that their risk management has taken a different position. We're not saying the state is 100 percent at fault, but given the findings and reports, they hold some culpability," Mitchell said.
Scott said he met a lot of the families after the crash "and, your heart goes out to them. That crash was devastating. Unfortunately, that is in litigation right now, so you have to watch and see what happens in the litigation."
Attorney Jack Adams is representing victims Juliana and Joilson Lima, who were also in a van returning to Georgia from the Orlando church conference. Both sustained major injuries in their crash, including face wounds and spinal damage.
"Physically, they are doing OK," Adams said. "They had some pretty serious injuries...But I think in talking to all the people involved in this accident, it's just an emotionally scarring thing for them...There were collisions, fires and explosions all over the place. It's something out of nightmares."
He said he isn't surprised by the posture that state has taken.
The law regarding the state's sovereign immunity was recently changed and is limited to no more than $200,000 per person and no more than $300,000 "per incident or occurrence" unless the Legislature and governor approve a waiver.
Adams said an argument could be made that each collision is a separate accident or that the entire pileup was one single incident.
"We're still evaluating the possibility of filing the suit," he said. "It's such a complicated accident that nobody wants to do anything prematurely or jump in without understanding fully what happened.
"The state is a difficult party to bring a lawsuit against, and for good reason. But they're also willing to accept liability when it's their fault. Considering their decisions to open and close the roadways, it's hard not to pin some blame for this accident on the state."