It’s already been a busy year for the insurance industry. With a push on homeowners insurance done for now, the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida (PIFF) will focus on smaller changes.
Leaders say that includes exploring benefit assignment on auto glass repairs. Oh, and it also includes changing the law to counter decades of lawsuit abuse, going to battle with trial lawyers in what could be the food fight of the 2023 Legislative Session.
Michael Carlson, president of PIFF, said his group will closely follow bills filed by Sen. Travis Hutson in the Senate (SB 236) and by Rep. Tommy Gregory in the House (HB 837).
“These are really designed to lower the cost of doing business in Florida,” Carlson said, “and they are designed to address a litigation landscape decades in the making.”
While Carlson said the insurance industry didn’t have a direct hand in crafting the bills, it supports major changes, including an attorney fee structure he feels has been exploited by personal injury lawyers. He points to billboards lining every major roadway in Florida with pictures of plaintiffs bragging about high dollar damages they obtained through lawsuits against insurance carriers.
“Every billboard is about money,” he said. “I don’t even know if that accurately reflects even what they got. Is it the jury verdict or is it the verdict minus (the lawyer’s) 30% fee?”
Carlson said judges would still have three ways under state law to order companies in the wrong to cover court costs.
He said one-way attorneys fees have for too long encouraged frivolous lawsuits in Florida. And after legislation finally passed in the Legislature addressing the matter regarding homeowners’ claims, Carlson feels optimistic the Legislature this year will address the problem.
He also wants the legislation ultimately sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis for signature to improve a business climate that too often leaves businesses on the hook for “slip-and-fall” accidents on premises.
“Why is a person who, but for their own negligence that causes self-injury, entitled to that?” he asked rhetorically. “Why should anyone share in the cost of that injury? But if it happens at a Publix, a Circle K, an independent bookstore, anybody out there with a slip-and-fall at their establishment, they have a good shot at getting sued.”
Still, Carlson said the top priority bill for his organization deals with a less headline-grabbing situation. He would like lawmakers to address the practice of auto glass lawsuit harvesting. Bipartisan legislation has been filed in the Senate by Sen. Linda Stewart (SB 1002) and in the House by Rep. Griff Griffitts (HB 541) that would prohibit post-loss assignment of benefits on auto glass replacement.
PIFF is part of a political coalition dubbed “fix the cracks” that has united fraud investigators, legal reform advocates and insurers around the matter. Carlson said many consumers likely don’t even realize when they assign away benefits that later result in lawsuits against insurers.
The changes were vetoed in a past Session as part of a larger bill regarding no-fault insurance. This time, PIFF will champion a single-issue bill addressing the topic.