New Florida Law Should Reduce Frivolous Lawsuits

Image: Derek Lilly, morgueFile

Imagine this scenario: you’re drunk and speeding in a car that hasn’t seen the inside of a shop in years. The tires are bald, the brake pads wore out sometime last year and you’ve got about six inches of play in the steering wheel. Rounding a corner, your front tire finally gives up the ghost and blows out. Unable to turn, the last thing you remember before waking up in a wheelchair is that big old live oak tree looming in your windshield.

Because you live in Florida and know that product liability laws favor the plaintiff, you decide to sue the manufacturer of your automobile. Clearly the accident wasn’t your fault, and if only Brand X had built a better car you wouldn’t be paralyzed today. After all, any compact car should be able to hit a tree at seventy miles per hour without resulting in injury to passengers, right?

As absurd as this scenario sounds, that was exactly how Florida law was written until a recent change enacted by Governor Rick Scott. Until last month, the circumstances leading up to an accident were inadmissible in a product liability lawsuit. Given the imaginary case above, the jury would never have heard that the plaintiff was DUI, or that his vehicle should never have been on the road. Instead, the jury would have been told by the plaintiff’s lawyer how shoddy build quality and inferior safety safety systems tragically changed his client’s life. In most cases, the jury bought the argument and returned a generous verdict for the plaintiff.

Auto manufacturers welcome the change and see it as leveling the playing field. Personal injury attorneys, on the other hand, opposed the change in law with one going so far as to call it “ludicrous.” Of course the same attorney went on to qualify her clients as, “quadriplegics or having burns on 80 percent of their body,” which calls her credibility to question, at least in my mind.

This much is clear: frivolous (or even fraudulent) lawsuits cost all of us money. There are indeed legitimate cases of product negligence, but I’d call those lawsuits a lot less common than the what’s-in-it-for-me kind, often fueled by greed alone. In Florida, personal injury attorneys will now need to work a little harder, while auto manufacturers get to present their counter-arguments to a jury. If you ask me, the change in law is a victory for all of us.

Source: Automotive News