Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Florida Supreme Court Rejects Retroactive Application Of Asbestos Act

In American Optical Corporation, Et Al. v. Daniel N. Williams, Et Al (SC08-1616 & SC08-1640), the Florida Supreme Court affirmed THIS opinion released by the Fourth District and held:
Based on the foregoing, we affirm the holding of the Fourth District in Williams v. American Optical Corp., 985 So. 2d 23 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008), that retroactive application of the [Florida Asbestos and Silica Compensation Fairness] Act to the Appellees, and other claimants who had accrued causes of action for asbestos-related disease pending on the effective date of the Act, is impermissible because it violates the due process clause of the Florida Constitution. We disapprove the decision of the Third District in DaimlerChrysler Corporation v. Hurst, 949 So. 2d 279 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007), to the extent it is inconsistent with this opinion.
After providing the facts, the Court stated:
The parties strenuously debate whether the Appellees have a vested property interest in their right to pursue an action based on asbestos-related injuries. Having reviewed the parties‘ arguments and Florida common law, we conclude that the Appellees do indeed possess such a vested right.
Having determined that the Appellees have vested causes of action, we must next consider whether the Act may be applied retroactively to those causes of action. A two-part test is utilized to determine whether a statute may be applied retroactively:
First, the Court must ascertain whether the Legislature intended for the statute to apply retroactively. Second, if such an intent is clearly expressed, the Court must determine whether retroactive application would violate any constitutional principles....
The Act specifically provides that it is to apply to "any civil action asserting an asbestos claim in which trial has not commenced as of the effective date of this act."...As previously discussed this Court will not apply a statute retroactively if it "impairs vested rights, creates new obligations, or imposes new penalties."
In this case, the majority of the Court held that "Application of the Act to the Appellees does not merely impair their vested rights—it destroys them."

The briefs filed in the Florida Supreme Court can be viewed at the links below:

You can read an article about the decision in the Palm Beach Post [Florida Supreme Court rejects asbestos claim limit] and the Daily Business Review [Florida Supreme Court throws out 2005 asbestos law].


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