TorteDeForm

Justinian Lane

Florida Wants To Allow Irrelevant Evidence In Automotive Defect Lawsuits

Here’s a hypothetical for you.  Imagine that a guy is incredibly drunk – say twice the legal limit.  He gets in his car to start it up, and as soon as he turns the key, a defectively-designed fuel pump ignites the gas tank.  The car blows up, and kills him instantly.  The exact same result would have happened to a sober person.  Should the jury hear evidence that the guy was drunk?  No.  The reason why is that the driver’s intoxication has no bearing upon whether or not the fuel pump was defectively-designed.

At the behest of the auto industry, Florida is trying to pass a bill that will allow irrelevant evidence in automotive defect lawsuits:

The bill specifically boosts protections for automakers by allowing them to present more evidence when they are sued for product defects that result in enhanced injury following a crash. Florida is among a handful of states that consider a crash -- and any fault of the driver in that crash -- unrelated and irrelevant to injuries caused by defective parts or design.

In 2001, the Florida Supreme Court ruled against Ford, saying manufacturers could be held solely liable for design defects that enhanced the injury suffered in a crash, regardless of who was at fault in the crash itself.

The court's rationale for excluding evidence of the driver's fault in causing an accident is that the accident-causing fault is not relevant to whether an automobile manufacturer designed a defective product.

Source: Year's First Major Tort Bill Sails in Senate Judiciary | Sunshine State News

“Enhanced injury cases” are those in which a defectively designed part did not cause the crash, but increased the injuries sustained in the crash.  And whether the driver was drunk, speeding, or otherwise driving irresponsibly shouldn’t be admissible in determining whether the part was defectively designed.

My prediction: This bill will easily pass, and will be described as bringing “fairness” and “common sense” back to the Florida tort system.  It’s only January, but I’m confident this will be the worst year for the civil justice system since the bloodbath that was 1986-1987.

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Posted at 10:28 AM, Jan 13, 2011 in Product Liability
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Comments

This bill sounds absurd. Clearly auto companies and insurance providers should try to shield themselves from unfair or unnecessary claims. But when it comes to injuries caused by clear defects, I'm continually surprised by companies who try to dodge blame by citing irrelevant or skewed information. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

Posted by: Ben Buchwalter | January 13, 2011 1:05 PM

This is just the opening salvo of what promises to be a siege against consumer rights for at least the next two years. Instead of calling this bill what it is -- a bone being thrown to the automakers, the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee issued a press release talking about how this, and other tort reform, is going to help small businesses in Florida, and that tort claims and excess regulation are strangling job creation in Florida.

What a joke. I'm a small business owner, and it anyone asked me why I'm not hiring right now, the "tort system", and excessive regulation would be FAR down the list.

It makes me wonder: "Why do the proponents of this stuff have to resort to subterfuge if what they are legislating really is good for Floridians?"

Posted by: K.C. | January 14, 2011 12:13 PM

They have to lie and resort to subterfuge because the bill isn't good for Floridians. In fact, it is likely to cost Florida more money through Medicaid for seriously injured Floridians who can no longer hold Ford accountable for defective automobiles. It won't create any new jobs for Floridians (Ford hasn't promised to build a plant in Florida), it won't make Fords any cheaper (they are still selling cars in this market), and it will lead to more dangerous products (remember the Pinto people).

This bill is a bought and paid for law drafted by Ford's attorneys. It benefits Ford and the politicians who got campaign $. It harms everyone else.

Posted by: Steve | January 20, 2011 11:50 AM

What everyone is overlooking is that liability is NOT joint & several in Florida so it is necessary to apportion the damages between the various at-fault parties. It is irresponsible to simply say that part x was defective therefore all of the injuries should be apportioned to the manufacturer. It is entirely possible that the defective part did nothing to caue or exacerbate the injury, but since juries are so easily inflamed against manufacturers, it is necessary that a complete exposition of the accident be made available to the jury so that the jury properly and accurately can apportion damages. I know that the general philosophy of this site is that only the deepest pockets should be required to assume responsibility, but that's an injustice toward all

Posted by: Avenger | January 20, 2011 3:20 PM

Avenger,

It is foreseeable that automobiles will be involved in accidents, whether the accident is caused by a drunk driver or an elderly gentlemen who has a stroke. That is not the issue. The issue is simply that in the absence of a known defect in the automobile would the injured passenger have sustained the injury. If the injured passenger would have sustained the injury regardless of the defect, then Ford doesn't have a thing to worry about, but if it is like this story http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNcMCOdat9w then they rightfully need to take care of her.

Posted by: Steve | January 25, 2011 11:06 AM