Let’s say you were speeding behind the wheel of an old Chevy Blazer with bald tires and worn brakes in the rain. Rounding a curve, you leave the road and strike a tree, resulting in permanent injuries. Under previously existing Florida law, you could sue General Motors for producing a defective vehicle, since the jury would not be allowed to hear the underlying causes of the accident. The fact that your vehicle was in disrepair would be inadmissible, as would your lack of regard for speed limits in relation to the accident. The old Florida law was weighted heavily towards the plaintiff in product liability lawsuits, and product manufacturers were extremely limited in their ability to defend such cases.
That changed on June 23, when Florida governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law that will allow jurors to consider the cause of accidents in product liability lawsuits. The measure was supported by automakers and the business community in general, as it allows a better understanding of the events leading to a product liability lawsuit claim.
Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans was happy with the new legislation, saying of the previous law, “Because of this inequity, the Florida plaintiffs’ trial lawyers were filing hundreds of offensive cases involving criminal driver negligence, and car companies were prevented from educating the jury as to the actual cause of the accident. Wasteful and unfair litigation costs reduce American manufacturing jobs.”
As expected, it was opposed by many in the legal profession who earn a substantial amount of their income from product liability lawsuits. Attorney Leslie Kroeger called the new legislation “ludicrous, ” and downplayed the amount of cases brought against automakers by saying, “There aren’t tens of thousands being filed. When they are filed, they have big damages.” Kroeger went on to describe victims as being “quadriplegics or having burns on 80 percent of their body.”
This much is clear: it’s likely that plaintiffs’ attorneys will need to work harder on future lawsuits, and it’s equally likely that automakers will be paying less for fraudulent lawsuits in Florida.