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South Florida Sun Sentinel

Bill eliminating `joint, several’ liability

By Jason Garcia

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE • The Florida Senate gave final approval Thursday to a measure toppling a centuries-old principle of civil law that will make it harder for people to collect damages when they’re injured in an accident. 

After an intense lobbying campaign, senators voted 27-13 for a bill (HB 145) eliminating what’s known as “joint and several” liability. The doctrine, which businesses have wanted to abolish for years, says that a defendant in a lawsuit can be forced to pay most or all of the damages awarded to a victim, even if it is only partially to blame for the injury.

The Florida House, where Speaker Allan Bense made the issue his top priority this year, overwhelmingly approved the bill earlier this month. The two-month session has not yet reached its midpoint and the bill is already headed for Gov. Jeb Bush’s desk.

I look forward to signing this important legislation, removing an unfair burden on Florida businesses and making our state more competitive in our efforts to recruit high-paying jobs,” Bush said in a statement.

Opponents warned that without “joint and several,” innocent victims would wind up paying expenses such as medical costs.

“Someone has to pay for the hospital bills. Someone has to pay for the fact that someone is out of work,” said Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton. “An innocent party should not have to go through that.”

But supporters, spurred on by legions of business lobbyists, called “joint and several” liability unfair. A defendant -- whether it is a company or an individual -- should never have to pay more than its degree of fault in an accident, they said.

“This is not about big business. This is about being fair,” said Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples.

Jason Garcia can be reached at jrgarciaorlandosentinel.com or 850-222-5564.