Sunday, June 1, 2008
The Fourth District Court of Appeal in Florida revived thousands of Florida asbestos suits last week by ruling that the Florida Asbestos and Silica Compensation Fairness Act couldn't be applied retroactively. Here's an excerpt of the Daily Business Review's story:
Judge Gary Farmer wrote for the unanimous court that the Florida Asbestos and Silica Compensation Fairness Act "may not constitutionally be applied to eliminate the existing vested rights in the lawsuits pending when the act became effective" July 1, 2005. Judges W. Matthew Stevenson and Carole Taylor concurred.
The ruling reversed 13 decisions by Palm Beach Circuit Judge Elizabeth Maass upholding retroactivity. Some of the cases date back to 1999. The decision revives them in the lower court.
"It certainly means that there are thousands of cases that were in the pipeline that were retroactively thrown out by this legislation that now may see new life," said Miami solo practitioner Joel Perwin, who helped handle the 4th DCA appeal for plaintiffs.
The 2005 law set impairment standards for plaintiffs. People with nonmalignant asbestosis must have lost at least 20 percent of their breathing capacity to sue, and those with lung cancer would have to have asbestosis and diminished breathing capacity to discount the effects of smoking.
"There are limits to legislative power," Perwin said. "You don't take away rights that have already been accrued when you're passing new laws."
Coral Gables, Fla., attorney David Jagolinzer, a partner in the Ferraro Law Firm who has represented asbestos victims at the trial level, said he is "extremely happy" with the new ruling. He said it could restore as many as 4,000 asbestos illness cases statewide.
"The importance of this decision is that the whole statute is unconstitutional," Jagolinzer said. The law "established a level of sickness, a level of impairment which you never had before" as a threshold for a lawsuit.
The appeals court said it could not sever the provisions of the act dealing with retroactivity from other provisions.
"The act in its entirety may not constitutionally be applied to require claimants with accrued causes of action for damages resulting from exposure to asbestos to plead and prove that any malignancy or physical impairment results from their exposure to asbestos," the court ruled. "Instead, their accrued causes of action required them to show only that they suffered from an injury from an asbestos-related, nonmalignant disease." The ruling means the 2005 law cannot be applied to anybody with an asbestos-related disease whether or not they sued before the law took effect, Jagolinzer said.