Following five hours of debate, a House panel advanced a sweeping measure on lawsuit limits and sent the bill (HB 837) to the full House for consideration.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee agreed to tag on a lengthy amendment that was filed less than an hour before the meeting started that tackled some of the more controversial issues in the legislation including attorney fees; bad faith; and letters of protection. However, the changes aren’t enough to assuage opponents, who include the Florida Justice Association, which represents trial attorneys, and consumer groups.
House records show there are nearly 300 lobbyist registrations for the sweeping bill, a priority for House Speaker Paul Renner, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
As amended, HB 837 maintains one-way attorney fees for coverage denial claims. The bill initially eliminated the law that allowed plaintiffs who successfully sue their insurance companies to recover their attorney fees.
The amendment also altered the proposed bad faith provisions. Under HB 837 an insurer could avoid a bad faith claim by tendering the lesser of the policy limits or the amount demanded before the claim is filed or within 90 days after service of the complaint. The amendment altered that provision to allow insurers to avoid bad faith lawsuits by tendering the offer within 120 days of the claim.
One of the key provisions of HB 837 modifies the state’s comparative negligence system so that a plaintiff who is more at fault for his or her own injuries than the defendant may not recover damages from the defendant, a change that is worrisome for victims’ rights groups.
As amended though, HB 837, exempts medical malpractice lawsuits so the plaintiff’s behavior isn’t taken into consideration.
The committee also agreed to modify the section of the bill addressing letters of protection, or LOPs. LOPs are written agreements between a plaintiff and a medical provider in which the provider agrees to defer payment until later when the patient receives a settlement or jury verdict.
The bill would require physicians to accept contracted rates for insured patients. For treating uninsured patients the House bill would cap reimbursements at the Medicare rate. But if there’s no applicable Medicare rate, it’s then 140% of the Medicaid rate.
While that provision did not change, the amendment changed the evidence that a jury can consider for future medical costs.
NFIB Florida Legislative Director Tim Nungesser told the committee that the sweeping bill is legislation that his 10,000 members have been clamoring for.
Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson said she believes changes need to be made to the state’s insurance market but said this bill wasn’t the answer.
“This bill rewards big insurance companies and punishes Floridians every day. It won’t just affect property owners, homeowners this time or even Floridians who purchase health care,” she said. “It will affect all Floridians, all taxpayers.”
Meanwhile, Associated Industries of Florida President & CEO Brewster Bevis praised Renner and the bill sponsors, Reps. Tommy Gregory and Tom Fabricio. Bevis said the measure would “boldly transform Florida’s legal system and finally put a stop to lawsuit abuse in our state.”
This is the second time in as many days that legislative panels have voted to advance legislation placing limits on lawsuits.
The House and Senate bills are not identical. Sen. Travis Hutson, the Senate sponsor, conceded that attorney fees, bad faith and medical expenses were in flux and were still being negotiated.