Legal & Judicial
SB 1582 – Relating to Asbestos Trust Claims
On Monday, March 2, SB 1582 by Senator David Simmons (R-Longwood) was heard by the Senate Rules Committee and was reported favorable with 17 yeas and 0 nays. AIF’s Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs, Brewster Bevis, stood in support of this legislation.
On Friday, March 6, SB 1582 was read a third time on the Senate floor and passed with 38 yeas and 0 nays.
Asbestos is the name given to six naturally occurring fibrous minerals resistant to chemical, thermal, and electricity damage historically used in construction, manufacturing, and fireproofing. When handled, asbestos separates into microscopic particles, exposure to which causes cancer and other diseases, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis, which can take 20 to 40 years to develop following initial exposure.
Workers exposed to asbestos began falling ill and in turn sued the corporations responsible for their exposure. As the suits against these corporations piled up, many filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, which in turn stayed all current suits against the respective corporation.
The bankruptcy court faced a unique scenario, where corporations were able to reorganize while shielded from future suits. These suits would instead be filed against a trust fund formed by the company seeking bankruptcy reorganization.
Presently, where liability for an asbestos injury comes from both a trust and a solvent corporation, an injured person may sue the solvent corporation to recover its share of the harm, and a court may offset the judgment by the amount of trust payments the plaintiff received for the same injury. However, where a plaintiff files a trust claim after obtaining a judgment in a civil action alleging the same injury, a court loses its ability to offset the judgment against the solvent defendant. Plaintiffs use this loophole to increase their compensation for a single injury, essentially double-dipping.
The bill requires a claimant filing an asbestos injury lawsuit to notify all parties to the action of any claims made against and funds received from an asbestos trust. The bill states that a defendant in an asbestos claim may obtain through discovery certain materials the claimant has filed with an asbestos trust. The bill bars asbestos claimants from claiming that the materials filed with the trust are privileged. Additionally, the bill allows a trial court to adjust an asbestos claim judgment to reflect payment received by the plaintiff from an asbestos trust, if the plaintiff filed the trust claim after he or she obtained a judgment but before that judgment was satisfied.
SB 1582 will now go to the House for consideration.
AIF supports legislation that curbs “double dipping” of the asbestos trust fund which ensures that all Floridians affected may be adequately compensated.
HB 7 – Relating to Legal Notices
On Wednesday, March 4, HB 7 by Representative Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) was read a third time on the House floor and passed with a vote of 71 yeas and 47 nays.
All meetings of a county, municipality, school board, or special district at which official acts are to be taken or at which public business is to be discussed or transacted must be open to the public and notice must be given. All legal notices and publications must be made in a newspaper that meets the following qualifications:
- Published at least once a week;
- At least 25 percent of its words are in English;
- Considered a periodical by the post office;
- For sale to the general public; and
- Contains information of interest or value to the general public in the affected area
The bill would allow a governmental agency the option to deviate from print and publish legally required advertisements and notices on a publicly accessible website.
HB 7 is now in Senate messages.
AIF opposes internet-only public notice, as it eliminates the wide net created by print media and the internet combined. Webpages are present one day and gone the next; the internet is an inherently unreliable platform for critical information.
HB 7071 – Relating to Contingency Risk Multipliers
On Wednesday, March 4, HB 7071, sponsored by the House Judiciary Committee, was read a third time on the House floor and passed with 72 yeas and 46 nays.
In certain situations, after the resolution of a court case, the court may require one party to pay the opposing party's attorney fees. Several Florida and federal statutes, known as "fee-shifting statutes," entitle the prevailing party to a "reasonable" attorney fee as a matter of right. When a fee-shifting statute applies, the court must determine what constitutes a "reasonable" attorney fee.
Florida courts calculate reasonable attorney fees under the "lodestar amount.” The lodestar amount, in this context, is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate for the attorney’s services on behalf of the insured or beneficiary.
Federal case law states that a contingency fee multiplier may only be used in rare and exceptional circumstances, and that the multiplier is completely unavailable under certain federal statutes. Contrary to Federal case law, the Florida Supreme Court in 2017 ruled that the contingency fee multiplier in Florida courts is not subject to the "rare and exceptional circumstances" requirement. Thus, there is now a difference between Florida and federal law with respect to this issue.
The bill prohibits a court from using a contingency fee multiplier when calculating an attorney fee award unless an applicable statute expressly allows use of the contingency fee multiplier.
HB 7071 is now in Senate messages.
AIF supports legislative efforts that prevent unscrupulous actors from taking advantage of property insurance disputes which will keep insurance rates low and allow growth in Florida businesses.
SB 810 – Relating to Fees/Tobacco Products Dealer Permits
On Friday, March 6, SB 810 by Senator David Simmons (R-Longwood) was read a third time on the Senate floor and passed with 34 yeas and 4 nays.
- Increases the minimum age to lawfully purchase and possess tobacco products from 18 years of age to 21 years of age.
- Repeals exceptions allowing persons in the military and emancipated minors to possess or purchase tobacco products under current law.
- Prohibits smoking and vaping by any person under 21 years of age on or near school property, regardless of hours of the day.
- Limits the sale of tobacco products through a vending machine to a location that prohibits persons under 21 years of age on the premises.
- Requires age verification before a sale or delivery to a person under 30 years of age. (This complies with recently enacted federal law.
SB 810 will now go to the House for consideration.
AIF supports moving the legal age of purchasing these products to 21 to align with Federal law.