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DeSantis signs bill to award $3.5M to former wrestler injured at Florida school

Lawyers say his wrestling coach didn't have the necessary training or experience and pitted him against a bigger wrestler, resulting in injuries.
Credit: Олег Копьёв - stock.adobe.com

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that awarded $3.5 million to a central Florida man who was injured as a teen as a result of what the man's lawyers describe as negligence by Osceola County school leaders.

DeSantis signed CS/HB 6513, which awarded the $3.5 million to Kareem Hawari as compensation for injuries he sustained in 2010 during a wrestling match. 

According to a release from the law firm Morgan & Morgan, Hawari was just 13 years old when he was allowed to join his school's wrestling team despite not having consent from his parents to participate.

Shortly after joining, he competed in a wrestling match sponsored by Harmony Community School. Morgan & Morgan said Hawari's coach "lacked" the required training and experience to do his job and because of this matched Hawari against an opponent who was "larger and more experienced." 

"In Kareem's second match as a wrestler, his opponent charged him, did a double leg takedown, and caused the back of Kareem's head to violently and forcefully slam into the mat," the release stated. 

Hawari had a brainstem hemorrhage that resulted in a traumatic brain injury that affected his "cognitive abilities, motor coordination, and ability to speak," the law firm said. 

Morgan & Morgan said in 2014 one of its attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of Hawari and his family and reached a $3.6 million settlement. 

However, because Florida law protects public agencies and puts a recovery cap on claims made by people victimized by government negligence, the law firm said the state Legislature needed to get involved. 

Florida law states any amount awarded above the $200,000 cap must be approved by the Legislature via a claims bill and signed by the governor. 

“For years we filed claims bills in the Florida Legislature without success – but we never gave up,” Morgan & Morgan attorney Ryan Christopher Rodems said in a statement. “Kareem’s injuries have left him permanently and totally disabled, but despite his limitations, he hopes of building a family and creating invaluable memories in the future. The money awarded to him will be transformative in his life and will truly give him a shot at making his dreams a reality.”

State Sen. Victor Torres (D-15) sponsored the bill during this past regular legislative session. It was sent to DeSantis this month and signed Wednesday.

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