State OKs bill giving $3.5 million to paralyzed teen

Teen paralyzed by falling tree branch on city property

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A local teen left paralyzed because of the city's lack of action is now going to get the help he needs.

In 2011 Aubrey Stewart was injured when a tree limb fell on him, a tree that was the responsibility of the city and one that officials were warned about the possibility of it falling.

Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that allows the city to pay $3.5 million.

"I am pleased the Florida Legislature passed and the governor on (Wednesday) signed Aubrey Stewart's claims bill," said state Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville. "I recognize that money will not replace what was taken away from Aubrey, who has remained strong, but I hope that it will help ease the burden that he and his family have to carry."

There has not been any argument from the city about the money, but when an accident like this happens, there is a $200,000 cap that can be lifted, but it takes legislative action, and that is what just happened.

The huge tree limb that changed Stewart's life was on city property and the city had been told numerous times that it was ready to fall and when it did, it fell on Stewart, paralyzing the teen for life. 

Lawyers say a branch broke off this tree and fell onto Aubrey Stewart.

"They are such a deserving family, and it was such a tragedy. We have a mother and a father who had to give up their lives to provide for him, because the needs are so great when you have that kind of tragedy," Steve Pajcic, the family's attorney, said.

With a limit on what cities can pay for in this type of accident, the family took their case to the City Council and members agreed more should be done. They convinced the Legislature and the governor to lift the cap, allowing the Stewarts to receive the $3.5 million.

"This is just partial justice. Of course the family would prefer if it hadn't happened at all. And if it had been a private company, it would have been much more. The amount here will just provide for medical bill liens that are out there now. And some for the special needs that Aubrey has now and will continue to have for the rest of his life," Pajcic said.

According to Pajcic this settlement would not have happened if the problem had not been reported before the accident. The city was on notice and did not take action.

"So the warning is for the government to take care of these things in the future. But also for the citizens out there. When you see a problem make sure you report it," Pajcic said.

The family issued this statement Wednesday saying:

"It's been a difficult four years for Aubrey and our family. We are grateful for all the prayers and support. We appreciate everyone coming together to help our son through this tragedy."

This was a bipartisan effort, with the governor, mayor, city council and others coming together to make it happen.


About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.