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Crist Signs Slip and Fall Legislation

Gov. Charlie Crist quietly signed into law Wednesday a major priority of retailers that was opposed by trial lawyers, shifting the burden of proof in negligence cases, in so-called slip-and-fall scenarios.

Since a 2002 court ruling the burden of proving the safety of a business' premises has been on the business, a situation that had retailers complaining that they were essentially guilty of having a dangerous shop until they could show otherwise. They also claimed that liability costs increased after the 2002 ruling, in Owen v. Publix.

Crist on Wednesday signed a bill (HB 689) restoring the burden of proof to a person who is injured in a slip and fall case. They now will have to prove the business had knowledge of a dangerous condition and didn't fix it.

The tort reform measure was seen as a big priority for Republicans as well, and puts the governor in line with them on one of the GOP's pet issues - lawsuit rules. That may be in contrast to a couple other areas that have dominated the capital's attention - a school merit pay measure where Crist is openly considering a veto that would put him in opposition to his own party and a campaign finance bill he rejected that was sought by Republican legislative leadership.

The slip and fall bill was one of two tort bills the governor signed on Wednesday. The other limits cases in which the attorney general can hire outside lawyers to work on a contingency fee basis to sue deep pocketed defendants. Trial attorneys who seek to win big payouts at what many Republicans say is the expense of business to an unfair degree have been one of the GOP's biggest targets over the last decade or so.

Similarly, the trial bar has been a big constituency of Democrats, who say efforts to curb lawsuit abuses have gone over the top into a vendetta against the legal profession and deny the injured and cheated a chance at justice.

Crist signed the measure with no comment, unlike the other bill that limits the attorney general's ability to hire outside counsel on contingency, which Crist touted at a news conference with Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum, a chief backer of that legislation (HB 437).

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