A Florida appellate court recently held that the retroactivity limitation for asbestos lawsuits under the state’s 2005 Asbestos and Silica Compensation Act rendered the entire Act unconstitutional. Williams v. American Optical Corp., Nos. 4D07-143-4D07-151, 4D07-153, 4D07-154, 4DO7-405 AND 4D07-407 (May 28, 2008).
American Optical Co., Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and General Electric Co. were among the seventeen defendants in several lawsuits connected by the same dispositive issue: “whether the Florida Asbestos and Silica Compensation Act can be retroactively applied to prejudice or defeat causes of action already accrued and in litigation.” The Act established certain mandatory medical thresholds for plaintiffs bringing asbestosis and silicosis claims and further applied its illness thresholds retroactively to cases already previously filed in court.
By unanimous decision, the appeals court found the retroactivity provision unconstitutional because it eliminated rights already accrued by individuals who became ill prior to the law becoming effective. The court further refused to sever the retroactivity provision from the rest of the Act, stating that “the singular purpose [of the Act] is to end litigation by claimants who have been damaged by asbestos exposure without resulting malignancy or physical impairment . . . the entire Act is tied to that aim.”
The decision means that the suits at issue, previously dismissed under the Act’s limitations, can now proceed forward. In addition, there are reportedly thousands of asbestos-related lawsuits that could potentially be revived by this decision.
For a full copy of the decision, please click here.