In a victory for consumers, environmentalists, children, seniors
and attorneys, Florida Judge Nikki Ann Clark declared that state's sweeping
"tort reform" law unconstitutional in a decision
issued Friday, February 9, 2001. Clark was the judge who presided over
the Seminole County absentee ballot case in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential
election, where she ruled in favor of the Republicans.
Finding that the law violated the state constitution's ban on laws that
embrace more than one subject, Judge Clark found that the enactment amounted
to a "classic case of logrolling" and
embraced no fewer than 20 wholly unrelated subjects. The only way legislation
with a multitude of subjects can be constitutionally enacted in Florida
is if the various pieces are necessary to address a well-identified crisis.
Judge Clark found, and the state's lawyers had conceded, that no such crisis
existed. As a result, the entire law was struck
down as unconstitutional.
"This was a law that only served the habitually negligent and intentionally
reckless," said ATLA lead attorney Robert S. Peck. "Judge Clark found that
the law so blatantly violated constitutional requirements that it was unnecessary
for her to address the law's other multiple legal flaws."
The law, passed in 1999 and signed into law by Governor Jeb Bush, put
severe limitations on the rights of consumers and injured people. Among
other things, it established arbitrary rules on the useful life of products,
limited the liability of multiple defendants, immunized employers for the
intentional harmful acts committed by their employees, and provided lawsuit
protections to a number of specific industries, including airplane manufacturers,
rental car companies, convenience stores, and owners of property used by
The lawsuit challenging the law's constitutionality was filed in December
1999 on behalf of Florida consumer groups, environmentalists, union members,
trial lawyers, civil rights groups, and senior citizens. Representation
was provided by ATLA's Legal Affairs Department, under the lead of Senior
Director Robert S. Peck, and members of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers,
led by Jacksonville lawyers W.C. Gentry and Wayne Hogan.
The victory follows successful challenges brought by the ATLA team in
In addition, the ATLA team won a constitutional challenge decision in a
trial court over that state's cap on medical malpractice damages, which
is now pending in the Nebraska Supreme Court.
An appeal of the Florida decision is expected.
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