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Pesticide liability exemption bill passes the House, is on the move in the Senate

Senior Editor Top Stories
Rep. Keith Truenow

Rep. Keith Truenow

A proposal to exempt pesticide distributors, dealers, and applicators from product liability claims is moving in the Senate.

The Senate Rules Committee voted 12 to 7 on Monday to approve HB 347 by Rep. Keith Truenow, R-Tavares. It cleared the House 81-33 on Thursday, over strong Democratic opposition.

Senate sponsor Jay Collins, a Tampa Republican, told the Rules Committee the measure is needed to “stabilize” the market.

“The purpose of this bill is to provide protections from excessive lawsuits,” Collins said. “Multiple jury awards out there for very large sums of money were punitive in nature.”

The bill would exempt pesticide distributors, dealers, and applicators from product liability claims, including a failure to warn.

However, the bill’s protections would not apply to distributors, dealers, or applicators, who alter or misuse the product, or who exercise “substantial control” over its design, testing and manufacture. A subsection (d) of the bill would also exempt manufacturers “not subject to the jurisdiction of the state,” from the liability protections.

Bill Cotterall, general counsel for the Florida Justice Association, warned that the bill would absolve those “in the stream of commerce” who would know best if a pesticide is unsafe.

For example, Cotterall said, the bill would protect an exterminator who knowingly sprays a home with a recalled product, just to get rid of excess inventory.

Injured plaintiffs may be able to sue a manufacturer, but the bill doesn’t address the difficulty they would face collecting from a foreign corporation, or one that goes bankrupt, Cotterall said.

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book offered an amendment that would exempt manufacturers based in a handful of adversarial nations — including Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, and North Korea — from the bill’s protections.

“I’m just concerned this could be very dangerous for Floridians,” she said.

Her amendment died on a voice vote.

Collins’ companion measure, SB 1252, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee 8-1 earlier this month. If did not receive a hearing in its next two committees of reference, Agriculture and Rules.

Democrats blasted the measure on the House floor late last week, saying some pesticides have been linked to debilitating health conditions.

“Is there evidence that [these products] could be the cause of Parkinson’s Disease?” demanded Rep. Yvonne Hinson of Gainesville.

“That’s speculation,” Truenow said.

Truenow defended the measure, saying that people who use pesticides according to the manufacturer’s instructions should not be held responsible for any potential harm they may cause.

“If there’s a problem with the product, you can sue the manufacturer,” he said. “You don’t need to sue the applicator, the farmer, or the distributor to get to the root of the problem.”

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