The families of 52 people killed, injured, or traumatized during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High have reached a $25 million settlement with the Broward School District, the lawyer for the families confirmed Monday.
The largest payments will go to the 17 families whose children or spouses were killed, and they will each receive an equal amount, attorney David Brill said. Brill would not provide further detail on amounts or how the money will be divided.
The settlement could end a 3 ½ year battle between the school district and family members of victims, who alleged the school district’s negligence contributed to a troubled former student walking onto the campus on Valentine’s Day 2018 and killing 17 people and injuring 17 others.
“It’s a fair and frankly remarkable result,” Brill said. “It gives the families a measure of justice and accountability.”
While the terms have been reached, the settlement agreement is still being drafted, Brill said. With no signed agreement yet, the school district declined to comment Monday.
“This continues to be pending litigation, which the District does not comment on,” said a statement from the office of Chief Communications Officer Kathy Koch.
Brill said the parties have worked out an arrangement that will enable the families to collect without having to wait for approval from the Florida Legislature, which is the normal process for a government settlement over $300,000. He declined to provide specifics.
The settlement is “painful money” that provides little solace, said Andrew Pollack, who became a fierce critic of the school district after his daughter Meadow was killed.
“It’s hard to talk about money because your daughter was murdered,” he said. “How could you be happy about it?”
Samantha Fuentes, 21, is one of the surviving victims. She suffered gunfire shrapnel wounds on her face, arms, and legs.
“There’s no amount of money that could reverse the event that happened on February 14th. There’s no monetary amount that could be given that fixes my mental illnesses, my physical disability, or erase the memory that will always haunt me and my entire community,” she said.
“All that I hope is that this provides a foundation for those who have been affected who are struggling whether that’s mentally, physically, or financially to get the resources they rightfully deserve,” Fuentes said.
She said the recovery has been a “painful and tedious process” and she still experiences pain in both her legs daily.
“It fluctuates but some days it can be unbearable,” Fuentes said.
The plaintiffs include two current members of the Broward School Board: Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed, and Debbi Hixon, who lost her husband Chris, a coach and security monitor at Stoneman Douglas. Hixon declined to comment, while Alhadeff couldn’t be immediately reached.
The School Board has been discussing the case in closed sessions for more than two years, although Alhadeff and Hixon were not part of the discussions.
Payments will be made to the families of 17 people who died, 16 of the 17 who were injured, and 19 who suffered severe trauma, Brill said.
It’s hard to talk about money because your daughter was murdered. How could you be happy about it?
One victim not included in the settlement is Anthony Borges, a student who was one of the most severely injured survivors. Bullets ripped into his lung, abdomen, and legs.
“There was a concern by the rest of the families that Borges was just demanding more than the fair share,” and it was jeopardizing the settlement, Brill said.
Borges’ lawyer Alex Arreaza split off from the larger suit, citing a need for lifelong care that is expected for his client. He said it’s an “emotional argument,” not a legal one, to say those whose loved ones died are entitled to more money.
“The other parents will always say at least your child is alive,” he said. “Out of all the 34 people (killed or injured), my client is the one that has the biggest doctor’s bill.”
Arreaza said he expects a settlement in his client’s case within the next few days.
The families still have open litigation against two former school district employees, security monitors Andrew Medina and David Taylor, accused of failing to respond once they were aware killer Nikolas Cruz was on campus.
They are also suing the Broward Sheriff’s Office and Scot Peterson, a BSO school resource officer who didn’t enter the building during the shooting. Those cases are still pending.
The announcement comes three days after lawyers for Cruz announced he would plead guilty to the murders, avoiding the need for a trial. A jury is still expected to decide whether he should receive the death penalty or life in prison.
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