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Lawmakers Are Rushing to Pass Several Bills Related to Personal Injury Lawsuits

The Fran Haasch Law Group

Republicans in the Florida Senate just beat down Democratic Sen.Dan Gelber’s effort to take aim at Attorney General Bill McCollum for running to the courthouse over the federal health reform Congress passed this week.

Lawmakers are rushing to pass several bills related to personal-injury lawsuits and took up one which would put $50 million contingency-fee caps on the state Attorney General’s office when it hires outside lawyers.

But Gelber – himself a candidate for attorney general –offered an amendment to the bill Thursday intended to make the point that McCollum was also using an outside lawyer, who happens to be a former co-worker, to launch what Democrats have called a “frivolous” politically motivated federal lawsuit to throw out the health care reform.

Gelber called McCollum’s lawsuit “an ideological escapade” on the floor and tried to add language to the bill limiting the AG from hiring outside lawyers for pursuing a federal lawsuit challenging the health care reform.

Democrats blasted the move, and Republicans blasted back over the federal reform signed by President Obama this week.

“Every time we disagree with something the attorney general does, are we in this body going to take a stand and say ‘No you can’t do that thing … even if it protects the constitutional rights of those citizens,” the bill sponsor, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

But Gelber said the attorney general had enough on his plate with pill mills, gang violence, child predators, and other criminals.

“The question we should ask right now is ‘Why is the attorney general spending all the resources of his office almost on a daily basis on this political frolic designed only to get headlines?” Gelber said.
The amendment failed, of course, to persuade any Republicans, and the bill (HB 437) passed 27-11 without Gelber’s amendment.

The contingency-fee bill is part of a deal between the House and Senate, trial lawyers and businesses to pass four different tort-related bills this session.

As part of the deal, trial lawyers get a weaker version of a bill re-instituting “parental waivers” than what the tourism industry wanted, and businesses get more protection from slip-and-fall lawsuits. The Senate quickly passed 32-5 the “slip-and-fall” bill (HB 689) making it harder to sue grocery stores or other businesses when someone gets hurt because there was something slick on the floor.

Both the slip-and-fall and contingency-fee bills had already cleared the House and were sent to Gov. Charlie Crist.

The Senate then went on to pass two bills that go to the House. One (SB 2060) raised the sovereign immunity caps for the state and local governments. The other ( SB 2440) is the so-called “parental waiver” bill sought by Walt Disney and the tourism industry to let parents waive the right to sue for their children when they get hurt taking an “inherent risk” at theme parks, rock-climbing walls, horse-training academies and so forth.


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