Industry Cheers as Florida Repeals Joint and Several Liability

March 30, 2006

The Florida Senate has passed a repeal of joint and several liability, which means the measure now goes to Gov. Jeb Bush who is expected to sign the bill into law.

The bill (HB 145) eliminates joint and several liability, which made every defendant in a lawsuit liable for the entire amount of the plaintiff’s damages regardless of the degree of fault of any individual defendant.

With the approval of HB 145, Florida replaces joint and several liability with proportionate liability. Under proportionate liability defendants are only responsible for their relative share of the damages in question.

The news was met with cheers from the insurance industry.

Applause rang out from more than 120 members of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents when the Senate’s action was announced during their Legislative “Fly-in.”

Abolishing joint and several liability was FAIA’s highest priority lawsuit-related reform objective for the legislative session.

Reacting to the repeal of the rule, FAIA maintained that joint and several liability effectively converts lawsuits into quests for financially viable defendants. As a result, those “deep-pocket” defendants settle out of court for fear of being on the hook for a substantial award, even if they are only minimally at fault for an injury, the group stated.

Jubilation over the passage of the bill also came from the American Insurance Association and Attorney General Charlie Crist.

“The passage of HB 145 is a great victory for the state’s business community who experienced firsthand the unfair financial consequences of joint and several liability,” Cecil Pearce, AIA vice president for the Southeast Region, said. “Hopefully, we can now move away from the long-standing litigation lottery mentality that has prevailed for years in the Florida courts, as plaintiffs lawyers sought to find the defendant with the deepest pockets.”

“Passage of HB 145 is also an impressive political victory for Gov. Bush and for the legislative leadership, Senate President Tom Lee and House Speaker Allan Bense,” said Pearce. “They made joint and several liability reform the number one tort reform priority for this session, which is Gov. Bush’s last as governor and for Bense and Lee in their leadership positions. These leaders understand that economic development is closely tied to a state’s litigation environment, and today’s action sends a strong message to companies throughout the country that Florida is open for business.”

“In passing a bill to eliminate joint and several liability, the Legislature today made an important statement on behalf of our state’s economy, while still allowing injured plaintiffs to seek compensation from those who truly caused their injuries,” commented Attorney General Charlie Crist, who is a candidate for governor.

“It is unfair because it forces a business or a person that may be only minimally responsible for a person’s injuries to pay for the mistakes of others. It is detrimental to small businesses, which are the lifeblood of Florida’s economy but could be forced to close if made to pay more than their share of damages. It defies common sense, because Floridians know instinctively that a person should only have to pay to fix the damage he or she actually causes. And it invites abuse by encouraging plaintiffs to use a “shotgun” approach to filing lawsuits in hopes of finding a defendant with deep pockets – even if that defendant wasn’t directly responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries,” Crist maintained.

Florida CFO Tom Gallagher commented:

“The Senate today took a big step toward restoring basic fairness to our civil justice system. I congratulate Speaker Bense and Senate President Lee, as well as those senators who stood firm on the side of Floridians in the face of anti-consumer and anti-business special interests.

“The repeal of joint and several is a victory for small businessmen and women, doctors and nurses, and Florida’s families, all of whom pay unfair hidden tort taxes as the result of a few unscrupulous attorneys.

“But repealing joint and several alone is not enough. Conservative estimates suggest the startling cost of litigation in Florida is rising and currently costs every man, woman and child in Florida $900. Tort costs are a real threat to our economy, and Floridians expect real leadership on tort reform from their next Governor. I have proposed a comprehensive tort reform plan that is vital to the long-term economic well being of our state, and I will continue to fight for meaningful tort reform bolstered by today’s positive news.”

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