TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Feb. 9, 2011) — A state bill that would help automobile manufacturers in product liability cases should be amended to protect the rights of police officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel, according to a Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) chapter union leader.
Trooper William Smith, president of the FHP chapter of the Police Benevolent Association, said in a press statement that Florida's “first-responders put their lives on the line every day and should not be penalized for performing their duties in unsafe vehicles.”
On Feb. 7, the state Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism voted 6-1 in favor of SB 142, a bill that would reverse a 2001 Florida Supreme Court ruling on trial evidence in automobile product defect cases. The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples), would limit liability of manufacturers in cases involving injuries and deaths to occupants from a defective automobile.
Mr. Smith added that first-responders constantly face the risk of death or serious injury when performing their high-risk duties on Florida highways. “This bill, as currently written, is very disrespectful to our state's police, firefighters and other first-responders,” he said. “Our state troopers, who have not received a raise in years, deserve far better treatment from our state legislature.”
However, according to the FHP press release, the Senate committee rejected an amendment that the bill's provisions would not apply to any first-responder, defined as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician or paramedic.
“We strongly urge the Florida Senate and House to include this pro-law enforcement amendment in the final bill,” said Miami attorney Edward Blumberg, a partner at Deutsch & Blumberg, P.A. and former president of the Florida Bar.
The FHP said Mr. Blumberg, who has represented the families of several deceased and injured law enforcement officers, also questioned why the state legislature would “ever want to take away any legal safety net that helps to protect them when performing their duties?”
A decade ago, the Florida Supreme Court held that auto manufacturers could be held solely liable for design defects that enhanced the injuries suffered by crash victims. In the ruling against a U. S. auto maker, the court said that a driver's possible fault in causing an accident was not relevant to whether the vehicle had a defective design or product, according to the FHP.