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New Florida bill changes the rules for product liability lawsuits

Ten years ago, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that evidence of the primary cause of a car accident cannot be used in a product liability case. But now the Florida House has passed a bill that would overturn that ruling.

The bill, which has already been passed by the Florida Senate, would allow evidence of the primary cause of a crash to be introduced in product liability lawsuits. This makes it more difficult for car crash victims to receive compensation from car manufacturers even if injury resulted from defective car equipment.

This heated topic, also known as the issue of "crashworthiness", has sparked debate over whether the bill limits the liability of auto makers. Those who support the bill believe that it would make the process fairer by allowing a jury to make determinations with all the details of the crash.

But those who are hesitant about the new legislation are afraid that it would significantly limit the liability of the car manufacturers. There would be less accountability when a defective product causes harm or injury if it was not the primary cause of the crash.

One question is whether the driver's condition should be considered when the jury makes a final decision. A defective product is a defective product. Shouldn't the manufacturer be liable for damage caused by their faulty product?

We mentioned a Florida Supreme Court ruling that was overturned by this bill. In that case, a young man was seriously injured after his vehicle crashed and then caught on fire. His mother sued the car company because there was a defective fuel pump that caused the injuries. The jury ruled that the fire was the result of the crash. However the Supreme Court found that the jury should not have been told that the driver was intoxicated behind the wheel and reversed the decision.

If that same case were to come before a jury now that the bill has passed, the initial verdict would hold and the car company would not be liable even if there was a defective piece of equipment.

Source: MSNBC online, "Fla. Lawmakers limit lawsuits against auto makers," James L. Rosica, 04 May 2011

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