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Tampa Bay Times: Legislation restores judicial fairness

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesday’s letters: Legislation restores judicial fairness
Proposal restores judicial fairness

Virtually everyone agrees that our courts should provide a fair and balanced civil litigation system for all people, industries and businesses. Unfortunately, Florida courts are operating two different systems for civil cases, treating some businesses more harshly than others with no basis in the law.

We have an opportunity this session to fix Florida’s judicial fairness problem. Senate Bill 978 and House Bill 1067 propose a simple legislative fix that clarifies the formula for punitive damages in current law since 1999 and applies it to all pending cases.

This legislation doesn’t eliminate punitive damages in any cases. Applying the current legal formula still monetarily punishes the liable party. It also doesn’t affect compensatory damages for plaintiffs, and on top of those actual compensatory damages, punitive damages will still be imposed against defendants.

Most importantly, the bill clarifies that the Legislature’s 1999 limitations on punitive damage calculations must apply to all pending cases filed after that law was enacted. This change was made for a simple but critically important reason: to protect all plaintiffs and preserve the finite resources of defendants. This law allows plaintiffs to receive the damage awards they are due, instead of permitting unlimited damages to be awarded to the “first” plaintiffs in line, to the detriment of those whose cases may not have been heard and decided as rapidly.

In short, this legislation guarantees that all pending cases are handled the same and everyone operates under the same set of rules and damage calculations. That is not changing the law; it’s just clarifying that it must apply to everyone.

Florida legislators should champion this effort to re-establish the notions of fairness and blind justice on which our legal system operates. A state that doesn’t guarantee its citizens a judiciary that abides by these cornerstone tenets is simply bad for business, employees and customers.

Tammy Perdue, general counsel, Associated Industries of Florida, Tallahassee

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