Time is running out for tort reform

Decorative Scales of Justice in the Courtroom
Top priority: bills that end the contingency risk multiplier.

The clock is ticking.

With less than three weeks remaining in Session, there is little time for the Legislature to move forward with tort reform legislation. But the stakeholders who want to see meaningful reforms passed this Session are not ready to give up on the bills that target the contingency risk multiplier fee.

Letters authored by the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Insurance Council and the Florida Justice Reform Institute were delivered to leaders in the Florida Capitol this week, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, advocating for the final passage of SB 914 and HB 7071.

SB 914, filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, and HB 7071, filed by Rep. Mike Beltran, aim to rein in exorbitant attorney fees by bringing Florida’s law in line with the U.S. Supreme Court standard. This legislation limits the contingency risk multiplier fee to be used only in rare and exceptional circumstances.

According to the letters, lawsuits tied to property insurance claims have grown exponentially from 25,000 cases in 2017 to 50,000 cases in 2018 and even higher in 2019. While at the same time, trial lawyers are taking home exponentially more in attorney’s fees than they did two years ago on these same cases.

In one example, a trial attorney was awarded $1.2 million on a $40,000 dispute. In another, the trial attorney took home $750,000 on a $19,000 award. And in another, the trial attorney banked $700,000 on a $35,000 settlement.

As a result, the insurance companies have taken a big blow, and policy rates are on the rise. Over the last two months, several carriers have applied for rate increases from Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation, ranging from 20 to 40% statewide averages. The Central Florida area is expected to absorb higher rate increases than the statewide averages with 45% to 65% increases.

Additionally, through three fiscal quarters in 2019, the domestic property insurance marketplace had $378 million in net underwriting losses. Fourth quarter numbers are due March 1 to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, and many industry experts believe total losses will surpass $500 million for 2019, a year in which no hurricanes hit our shores.

The explosion of multipliers in any and all property insurance suits was created in 2017 by a single Florida Supreme Court decision stemming from a basic insurance claim where the policyholder made only a single phone call to find representation.

Previous to 2017, Florida used the “rare and exceptional” standard of the U.S. Supreme Court to warrant an attorney fee multiplier. Previously, federal courts and all other states have limited multiplier use for more than four decades.

Homeowners agree this trend is alarming. A recent poll shows 87% of Floridians are concerned with attorneys receiving up to 30 times more than a homeowner does in an insurance dispute.

The Senate Rules Committee will meet Monday afternoon. Its agenda will be published by 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Will this Legislature’s last chance at tort reform be on it?

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


2 comments

  • Daniel Alvarez

    February 26, 2020 at 10:09 am

    “The explosion of multipliers in any and all property insurance suits was created in 2017 by a single Florida Supreme Court decision stemming from a basic insurance claim where the policyholder made only a single phone call to find representation.

    Previous to 2017, Florida used the “rare and exceptional” standard of the U.S. Supreme Court to warrant an attorney fee multiplier. Previously, federal courts and all other states have limited multiplier use for more than four decades.”

    The above is patently incorrect. Please go read the case, Joyce v. Federated National. The Supreme Court of Florida specifically lays out how multipliers have been around since 1985 and goes through a history on it

    Full disclosure, I represent policyholders when claims get denied or underpaid. After more than 1200 cases, I’ve never gotten a multiplier and I’ve only asked for it once. They still remain rare and exceptional no matter what the Insurance Industry is saying.

  • martin

    February 29, 2020 at 8:11 am

    The solution is plane and simple: either the insurance companies do the job that the premiums are being paid for, or suffer the consequences. I am tired of the legislature ignoring us, the policy holders continue to delay, and deny claims.

    The only way to level the playing field, and keep the insurance companies honest is to punish them for their continued bad faith.

    I am not an attorney. Just a citizen who is tired of being abused by insurance companies, who cheerfully take my premium dollars, then fight to pay a rightful claim.

Comments are closed.


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