Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

House Ponders Reform Some Cry Foul at Liability Caps

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

House Ponders Reform Some Cry Foul at Liability Caps

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- When a drunk, uninsured driver of a rental car

collided head-on with a vehicle occupied by Marilyn Salinero and

her family in 1985, the accident shattered her spine and left

her unable to walk.

The Key West resident sued the rental car company and reached a

settlement worth $7 million. Her attorneys got more than half of

the money.

A measure being debated in the Florida House today would

radically restrict the amount injured persons -- and their

attorneys -- can collect.

The effect, however, would be to limit attorneys' willingness

to take such cases, critics say. But supporters of House Bill

3877 say it strikes a reasonable balance between the

responsibility of the driver and firms renting cars.

The bill caps the liability of rental car companies to no more

than $600,000 for an individual if the driver has no insurance.

"If I hadn't been able to sue the rental car company, I would

be destitute today," said Salinero, 49, who spoke yesterday at a

news conference put on by the Coalition for Family Safety, a

group formed and supported by the state's trial lawyers.

The coalition's head, Steve MacNamara, derided the proposed

change as nothing more than a relief bill for drunk drivers and

South Florida billionaire H. Wayne Huizenga, who owns rental car

company Alamo.

But Steve Metz, a lobbyist spearheading the drive by business

groups to change liability laws, called MacNamara's complaints

"double hogwash."

"Florida is among a handful of states that have not enacted

mainstream tort reform," he said.

Tort reform is the term used to describe such liability law

changes.

The debate today takes place on the House floor against a

backdrop sharply tinged by partisan politics.

MacNamara said the car rental liability bill, one of several

similar measures scheduled for debate today, represents

political pay off to big corporations and special interests who

backed the Republicans in their successful drive to take over

the Legislature. …

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