Florida Governor Rick Scott Signs Senator Garrett Richter’s ‘Crashworthiness’ Bill (CS/SB 142) Into Law

Jun 24, 2011


A controversial 2001 Florida Supreme Court ruling that defined how motor vehicle “crashworthiness” cases were tried was overturned with the enactment of CS/SB 142 Relating to Negligence, which Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law yesterday, June 23, 2011.

Effective immediately, CS/SB 142 also overturns another earlier Florida Supreme Court decision, which held that the principles of comparative fault concerning apportionment of fault relating to the cause of an underlying accident would not apply in enhanced injury cases.  More specifically, a fact finder in “crashworthiness” cases must now consider the fault of all persons who contributed to the accident when apportioning fault.

During the 2011 Legislative Session, bill sponsor Senator Garrett Richter, who spearheaded similar tort reform efforts in 2010, explained his position that “lawsuit abuse costs thousands of Florida jobs each year.”  The bill, he said, will help “make the justice system more civil.”

“In court, your fate is in the hands of a jury, which may not know all the facts surrounding an accident,” Senator Richter added. “The jury needs the tools to make informed decisions.  We must allow vital and relevant information to be heard.  Lady Justice is blind, but she isn’t deaf.”

Prior to CS/SB 142 becoming law, Florida statutes did not permit a jury to hear all circumstances relating to an automobile accident, such as whether the driver was impaired, driving without a license, or speeding.  CS/SB 142 now provides for jurors to hear this information.  

The bill also contains intent language and legislative findings that its provisions are intended to be applied retroactively to overrule D’Amario v. Ford Motor Co., a landmark 2001 case in which the Florida Supreme Court adopted what it acknowledged as the minority view in crashworthiness cases.  CS/SB 142 states that the Florida Supreme Court’s minority view in D’Amario failed to apportion fault for damages consistent with the State’s comparative fault statute, 768.81, F.S., thus leading to unfair litigation results, regardless of the damages sought.

CS/SB 142’s enactment was heralded by statewide business consortiums such as the Florida Chamber and Associated Industries of Florida, which congratulated Senator Richter, as well as State Representative Marlene O’Toole, for their leadership roles in shepherding what was described the “strongest protections possible for auto manufacturers.”

Prior to 1968, courts in the United States did not allow those injured in automobile accidents to hold automobile manufacturers liable for injuries sustained where the negligence of the driver or a third party caused the accident, including scenarios in which an automobile defect contributed to the injuries sustained. 

Today, when faced with the practical application of the crashworthiness doctrine, many jurisdictions continue to grapple with whether a defendant automobile manufacturer may introduce evidence of, or assert as a defense, the comparative fault or contributory negligence of the driver or a third party in causing the initial collision.  While some state courts have concluded that  the introduction of principles of negligence into what would otherwise be a straightforward product liability case is not allowed, conversely, a majority of courts have allowed defendants to introduce evidence of a driver’s  or third-party’s negligence in causing the initial collision.



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