Fla. Senate passes bill, redefines crashworthiness doctrine

The Florida Senate passed a bill this week that would alter a legal doctrine that’s been in place for 10 years. The new law would apply to product liability lawsuits involving defective auto parts. Personal injury attorneys say the change allows automakers to escape liability for defects. Automakers and other businesses insist that jurors should hear all the details of a wreck, including whether the driver’s or passenger’s actions contributed to the injuries.

Currently, jurors are barred from hearing evidence about any other cause of an accident, such as drunk driving. Automakers or other manufacturers accept 100 percent of the fault for the accident if a defective part causes the injury in any way. Under the proposed law, the jury would hear evidence about all factors contributing to the accident.

A 2001 Florida Supreme Court decision established this “crashworthiness doctrine.” The original suit was brought by the mother of a 15-year-old who sustained horrific injuries in a car accident. Another boy was driving when the car crashed into a tree. The car exploded and caught fire. The driver died, and the boy riding with him lost three limbs.

The defendant, Ford Motor Co., claimed that the driver had been intoxicated at the time of the accident. As a result, Ford said, the car company shouldn’t be held liable for all the damages. The plaintiff successfully argued that the fire that injured her son was caused by a faulty relay switch.

The Court agreed, and the crashworthiness doctrine became law.

A similar House bill is stuck in committee.

Sources:

WCTV, “Fla. Senate Limits Lawsuits Against Auto Makers,” Lilly Rockwell, updated 03/16/11

Orlando Sentinel, “Senate bill would make it harder to sue auto makers for safety defects,” Aaron Deslatte, 03/16/11