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Trial lawyers escape session with victories: 'We're back'

The trial lawyers lobby won two battles today when the House sent the governor a compromise measure for child liability waivers and another bill to double the monetary damages on civil lawsuits against the government to $200,000.

In doing so, the Florida Justice Association managed to break even this legislative session in its perennial battle against the business community after losing early fights on litigation caps and limits on slip-and-fall lawsuits. But considering the predictions for this session -- after the trial bar's embarrassing mea culpa in the election of state Sen. John Thrasher -- they are claiming victory.

"I think that people exaggerated any affect on us from whatever," said Mike Haggard, the association's president. "We're back and we aren't going anywhere."

Read an (unofficial) report card below:

Top 5 issues:

1. Child Waivers: A move to allow parents to waive negligence --  and even gross negligence at one point -- for children at amusement parks and other dangerous activities was weakened significantly. It now allows only for waivers of inherent risk, a much lower standard. (Headed to governor.)

2. ER Sovereign Immunity: A measure to insulate emergency room doctors and workers from malpractice lawsuits, making them "an agent of the state" and subject to sovereign immunity caps, appears dead. (Stuck in Senate committee.)

3. Sovereign Immunity Cap: The trial bar wanted to increase a person's ability to recover civil damages from the state to $1 million, under one proposal. But trial lawyers settled at doubling the caps from $100,000 to $200,000 in individual cases, the first increase in 30 years. (Headed to governor.)

4. Slip-and-fall lawsuits: A major priority for the business lobby, this measure put limits on so-called slip-and-fall lawsuits at businesses by increasing changing the burden to show the store knew about the condition. But trial bar officials said it is still quite broad and won't restrict most cases. (Signed by governor.)

5. $50 million litigation caps: This top priority of Attorney General Bill McCollum, this legislation put a $50 million cap on lawsuits outside firms pursue on behalf of McCollum's office. It met little resistance, even from the trial bar, who is certain in major cases like an oil spill, an executive order would supersede the limit. (Signed by governor.)