July 8, 2011
Florida Supreme Court Finds the Asbestos and Silica Compensation Fairness Act Unconstitutional When Applied Retroactively
In a decision available here, the Florida Supreme Court held in American Optical Corp., et al. v. Williams, et al., No. SC08-1617; American Optical Corp., et al., v. Spiewak, et al., No. SC08-1616 (Fla. Sup. Ct. July 8, 2011) that the Asbestos and Silica Compensation Fairness Act (the Act) could not be retroactively applied. The Court found that those who had filed cases had vested rights such that, as found the Fourth District, “new legislation enacted after that accrual which substantially affects the cause of action may not be retroactively applied to that cause of action.”
In determining that the claimants had a vested right, the Court cited to case law that “clearly demonstrates that particular physical symptoms were not required, and changes in the lung evidencing asbestos-related disease were sufficient to trigger a cause of action.” It further found that development of symptoms of impairment “has never been the legal factor in determining ‘manifestation’ or accrual under Florida law.” The Court stated that the inhalation of asbestos fibers, which “became embedded in the lungs of the plaintiffs” constituted an actual injury. Thus, with this vested cause of action, the Act did not meet the two-part test to determine if a statute may be applied retroactively.
First, the Court determined that the Legislature did specifically intend for the Act to apply retroactively. However, next, the Court determined that the Act violated the Florida Constitution. Despite the Legislature’s statement that the Act was remedial in nature and did not impact vested rights, for the reasons set forth above, the Court disagreed, stating that under the Act, “vested rights simply vanish.”
The Court further concluded that the unconstitutional portion of the Act could not be severed in regard to the Appellees, thus the entire Act could not be applied in regard to their cases.
For more information on the author of this post, click here.