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Senate Passes the Elimination of Joint & Several Liability

March 30, 2006

In a monumental vote today, the Florida Senate passed a legal reform bill – HB 145 – which abolishes joint and several liability. The bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Dan Webster (R-Winter Garden) explained that the bill’s intent and outcome is simply a matter of fairness. The bill insures that people pay for the damages their mistakes cause but are not forced to pay for the mistakes of others.

This legislative battle has been fought long and hard by AIF and the Florida Coalition for Legal Reform for the past two years. We have advocated the passage of this particular legislation as the foremost key to legal reform for Florida to ensure a fair and predictable legal system that will help Florida’s economic prosperity continue into the future.

The Senate debate included some excellent discussion points from several senators who have been steadfast supporters of the business community on this issue. Senator Mike Haridopolos (R-Melbourne) included a statistic in his speech from a recent U.S. News and World Report study which found that American companies spend approximately $195 billion a year on research and development costs but they also spend $205 billion on litigation expenses.

Senator Burt Saunders (R-Naples) also spoke in favor of the bill and stated that his support was based on his strong belief that this bill would help small businesses and is the best thing for the “little guy.” He reminded the senators that this was a policy decision and quoted the Florida Supreme Court ruling in the much-discussed Fabre case that “There is nothing inherently fair about a defendant who is 10% at fault paying 100% of the loss, and there is no social policy that should compel defendants to pay more than their fair share of the loss.”

Additionally, some senators expressed extreme concern over the intense pressure they received from those who opposed this bill. Two senators involved in these discussions were Senator Larcenia Bullard (D-Miami) and Senator Mandy Dawson (D-Ft. Lauderdale). Both of these senators voted in favor of the bill today and cast votes yesterday to defeat the unfriendly amendments. Both also spoke in favor of the bill today and expressed their reasons for supporting the business community’s position on this issue. In a very stirring and heartfelt speech, Senator Bullard explained that her vote was based on the desires of her constituents to see this bill pass. Senator Dawson also explained that she supported the bill because it was a matter of fairness.

Senator Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) eloquently rebuffed many of the opponents’ criticism of the bill. He pointed out like others that the bill created fairness but that it was not an insurance bill or a health care bill -- it was only directed to the judicial system.

In his closing statement, Senator Webster again reminded his colleagues that they should vote against the bill if they believed people should pay more than their fair share and vote for the bill if they wanted to create a fair and balanced system where the amount people pay is based on fault and not on the depth of their pockets.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 27-13. The bill will now be sent to the Governor to be signed into law. It will become effective upon his signature.

Why Is This Important?

While this is a legal issue and can at times become confusing for many, the premise of this issue is of critical importance not only to the business community but to all citizens of Florida. Before this bill passed both the House and Senate, businesses were often targeted as the deep pocket in legal cases, for no other reason than they may have better insurance or more money than those who could have been more at fault. These types of legal costs are both harmful and unfair to business.

With the passage of HB 145, the scales of justice have been balanced. A business, or anyone for that matter, now will only pay what they are responsible for. So the Florida business community can now operate in a fair and balanced legal system. This is a huge victory for the men and women in Florida who go out each and every day and strive to operate their business for the betterment of their employees and their communities.

Let’s Express Our Appreciation

AIF and the Florida Coalition for Legal Reform salute the leadership of Senator Webster and Senate President Tom Lee in getting this monumental legislation passed through the Florida Senate. We also again applaud the work of House Speaker Allan Bense and House bill sponsor Representative Don Brown for their hard work in this great accomplishment. The men and woman of the House and Senate who voted in favor of this bill faced some harsh opposition in doing so. Some of them crossed party lines to vote in favor of this good bill. We encourage all AIF members to take a few moments and take a look at the list below of the Florida Senators who withstood the pressure today and voted for a more balanced legal system. We also encourage you to click on the link to their email and let them know how much you appreciate their efforts. It is critically important that these Senators understand how much we appreciate them passing this bill with no amendments and finally giving Florida some legal fairness in our judicial system.