Court Overturns Restrictions on Florida Asbestos Lawsuits

A Fourth District Court of Appeal's decision in Florida translates to a victory for personal injury lawyers and their clients suffering from asbestos- and silica-related illnesses.

In 2005, the Florida Asbestos and Silica Compensation Fairness Act placed restrictions on who was eligible to receive compensation for asbestos-related illnesses. The law laid out specific guidelines (e.g. plaintiffs had to have lost at least 20% of breathing capacity or demonstrate certain symptoms if they were smokers) to determine who could and who could not sue for damages from asbestos exposure.

The "impairment standards" were accompanied by a retroactivity clause; together, the provisions were reportedly designed to limit the number of asbestos injury cases in Florida courts, so that such cases wouldn't swamp the system. In practice, though, according to one personal injury lawyer, the restrictions were so sweeping that they effectively trampled the rights of Floridians in need of compensation for personal injuries.

Sources indicate that the impairment standards amounted to unprecedented restrictions on personal injury claims - restrictions that, according to the three judges who heard the case, were also unconstitutional.

The ruling also means the end of the law's retroactivity clause, which prohibited plaintiffs who sustained "insufficient" injuries from filing Florida asbestos lawsuits, even if their injuries occurred before the law was in place. One lower court judge evidently upheld the retroactivity clause in 13 separate cases, which will all be eligible to be reopened after the appellate ruling.

Generally, it seems Florida asbestos lawyers and personal injury lawyers are satisfied with the court's decision - one injury attorney allegedly estimated that 4,000 cases across the state could be reopened as a result of this ruling. And, because the retroactivity clause has been invalidated, even those who didn't file Florida asbestos lawsuits before the law took effect can do so.

Spokespeople for the industry, though, are predictably less than thrilled with the decision, which will likely mean bigger payouts to more victims from their pockets. Reports show that the industry plans on appealing the decision to the state's Supreme Court before letting the matter rest.

For those facing sickness because of asbestos exposure, as well as those who have lost family members and friends to such diseases, the ruling comes as a welcome reminder that the U.S. legal system can provide needed relief to the weary.

If you think you've suffered a personal injury, you may want to consider consulting with a personal injury lawyer to make sure your legal rights are protected and you're properly compensated for any losses you've sustained.

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