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PI damages cap bill falters in the Legislature

Senior Editor Regular News

A proposal to impose a $1 million cap on non-economic damages in personal injury cases survived several House committee votes, but never gained traction in the Senate.
Rep. Tom Leek

Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, withdrew HB 17 from the House calendar on May 3, the penultimate day of the 2019 session. Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, withdrew the companion, SB 1320 on the same day after it failed to get a single committee hearing.

Leek, an attorney for the Daytona Beach insurance firm, Foundation Risk Partners, said he filed the legislation, in part, because he believed the Florida Supreme Court overstepped its bounds when it invalidated a 2003 law imposing a similar cap on medical malpractice claims involving wrongful death.

“I believe in our judicial system, and I believe there is a place for the plaintiffs’ bar,” Leek said. “But I think that we have gotten out of balance.”

Florida justices also invalidated a $450,000 cap on non-economic damages in 1987.

But Leek predicted that his legislation would be upheld now that three justices who voted to overturn the 2003 law retired on the same day in January, giving Gov. Ron DeSantis a rare opportunity to appoint three justices early in his administration.

The measure was supported by conservatives and business groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, and the Florida Retail Federation.

Three House panels, the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee, the Commerce Committee, and the Judiciary Committee, approved the measure, over the strong objection of Democrats and trial attorneys represented by the Florida Justice Association. But even some Republicans expressed concerns.

Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, said the $1 million limit seemed arbitrary.

“I can’t imagine putting a value on a life,” she said.

Florida Justice Association President-elect Leslie Kroeger said $1 million is paltry compensation for the catastrophic injuries many of her clients have suffered, including a 7-year-old girl who was severely burned by poorly manufactured sleepwear.