March 20, 2007
Representative Mitch Needleman (R-Melbourne) and Senator Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) are sponsoring bills (HB 733 and SB1558) that would undermine and essentially eliminate the 2006 legal reform laws that AIF and Florida’s business community fought so long and hard to achieve.
Representative Needleman and Senator Ring’s bills are now being heard in committees in the capitol. They are telling other legislators that their bill will “fix” the system. They are also saying that these bills will cut down on lawsuits. Such statements are simply not true. The havoc these changes would wreak on our litigation system would delay litigation for years and virtually stop all possibilities of early settlements. The reality is that Florida’s current legal system is not broken – it only got fixed during last year’s session – less than a year ago. Florida’s citizens and businesses deserve a chance to let the good reforms of 2006 work and operate in our courtrooms.
The legal concepts these bills address are somewhat technical and procedural in nature. But the bottom line is that if these bills pass, businesses and individuals alike will once again be stuck with a legal system that forces them to pay more than their fair share of damages. That is simply wrong. These legislators must be asked why anyone would ever want to go back to that kind of system.
In the 2006 reforms, joint and several liability was completely abolished. This means that when a judge or jury decides that a defendant is only responsible for a portion of damages, that portion of the damages is all that person is required to pay. These bills would allow that same system to technically stay in place BUT would NOT allow a defendant to a lawsuit to defend himself by letting the jury know that the true harm was caused by someone that the plaintiff chose not to sue. In other words, if this defense is taken away, the defendant would ALWAYS be responsible for paying 100% of damages – even if they were only minimally involved in the accident or injury. If the plaintiff chooses not to sue the true wrongdoer – because they are bankrupt or have settled or any other number of reasons the plaintiff chooses – there would be no chance the defendant can apportion their fair share of damages with those other entities. Once again the deep-pocket mentality is surfacing and plaintiffs and their lawyers will be allowed to cherry pick defendants based on their ability to pay (which most of the time means an employer or business owner) rather than on their involvement or fault in causing an injury.
Already, the men and women that make up our business community are raising a ferocious outcry on this issues. Former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, John Thrasher, is once again leading AIF’s lobbying efforts on this issue that is of the utmost importance to your businesses and bottom line.
Last week, the House Constitutional and Civil Law Committee, led by Chairman Marcello Llorente (R-Miami), passed HB 733 on a 5-3 vote. AIF General Counsel, Tamela Perdue, appeared at that meeting and let the legislators know that this bill was not needed or desired by the business community and should be opposed. We told them if HB 733 or SB 1558 were to become law, it would completely alter the way individuals and businesses defend themselves in negligence cases, particularly those who are not fully responsible for harm but have perceived deep pockets.
There were 3 members of the committee who stood out as heroes for AIF and the business community. They are Vice Chair Representative Dorothy Hukill (R-Daytona Beach Shores), Representative Dave Mealor (R-Lake Mary) and Representative Anitere Flores (R-Miami).
The representatives who voted in favor of HB 733 last week made a clear choice to side with the trial lawyers and against Florida's businesses. AIF salutes Representatives Hukill, Flores and Mealor for their NO vote on HB 733. Please contact these legislators and let them know how much you appreciate their courage and commitment to preserving and protecting fairness in Florida's judicial system for all individuals and businesses. Furthermore, if your local legislator is one that is listed here as having sided with the trial attorneys against Florida’s employers, it is time to let them know we will not stand idly by and watch a balanced legal system that has been in place less than a year, already be degraded.
The message from Speaker Thrasher should be seen as a “Call To Arms” for the business community. Legislators need to hear from you about how critical this issue is to your family and business. They need to know that you oppose HB 733 and SB 1558 as well as any other efforts to change Florida’s current legal system. Urge them to fight to maintain the current balanced system and to accept no compromises on this critical issue.
Stay tuned and be ready to let your voice be heard by the legislators who want to re-create an unbalanced justice system for all.
It’s time for every business person in Florida ─ and every person who cares about a just legal system ─ to raise your voice. Our message must be strong, loud, and clear to legislators who want to cripple, again, our legal system: HANDS OFF!
The House bill will now be debated by the the House Safety and Security Council. Take a moment and email the Council members, by clicking on the names below, to let them know you support AIF’s position that HB 733 and all bills seeking to undo last year’s legal reform will not be supported by the Florida business community.