Florida’s legal landscape could undergo a seismic shift due to sweeping new limits on lawsuits legislators have now approved.
Moving at an unusually rapid pace, Republicans pushed through the bill. The measure contains several changes long sought by the state’s powerful insurance industry, as well as other restrictions on civil lawsuits in areas such as premises liability.
The omnibus bill (HB 837) emerged from the Senate via a 23-15 vote with a handful of “no” votes being cast by Republicans such as Sens. Jennifer Bradley, Jason Brodeur, Erin Grall and Jonathan Martin. Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart was the only Democrat to support the bill. Two lawmakers, Sens. Bryan Ávila and Ileana Garcia, were excused.
The House passed the bill last week via an 80-31 vote.
Several Senators who opposed the bill Thursday are lawyers.
A Democrat from Palm Beach, Sen. Lori Berman, argued the bill was a gift to insurance companies.
“The people who won’t be getting any gifts from this bill are the insured, the citizens of Florida, the constituents who sent us here to serve their interests against the deep pockets of large corporations. Our constituents will continue to pay rising premiums and find themselves in situations where coverage is inadequate.”
Tampa Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson said it’s commonplace for the Legislature to take lawmakers’ professional experience into account when crafting legislation and debating ideas.
But he lamented that had not been the case with the far-reaching tort bill. Sen. Travis Hutson, who is not a lawyer, has been negotiating the proposal with the House. The House version of the bill was filed by Reps. Tommy Gregory and Rep. Tom Fabricio, both of whom are lawyers.
“I am a trial lawyer, and we are pleading (with) you not to pass this bill. The way this legislation is written, it will hurt the consumer,” Rouson said.
“This bill is destined to pass. I can only hope that we come back in the next Session or before this Session is over and show the consumer that we really care about them, we care about their access to justice, we care about them being re-victimized by the process. And hopefully, we will come back and put a check and balance on the insurance companies, the very companies that are being bailed out at this point.”
But bill sponsor Hutson said the goes a long way to restore balance in a court system that for too long has favored the plaintiffs.
“We have a fundamental problem in Florida when you turn on your tv or your radio and the ad says, ‘If you have been an injured call an attorney first,’ ” Hutson said in support of the bill.
A priority for the Governor, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner, the omnibus bill makes substantive changes to how lawsuits are filed and litigated in the state, all but eliminating the longstanding statute that allows a policyholder who successfully sues their insurance company on a coverage denial claim to recoup attorneys fees.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce praised passage of the bill.
“This is a great day for Florida families, consumers and local businesses,” said Mark Wilson, President and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, in a prepared release.
“Passing the most meaningful legal reform in Florida’s history will help pull Florida out of the cellar with our nationwide bottom-five legal climate and set us on the path to reaching our Florida 2030 Blueprint goal of being one of the top 12 civil justice systems in the nation.”
In addition to the near-total elimination of the one-way attorney fee statutes, the bill also 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. In premises liability cases, a property owner can include on the jury form the name of a criminal. If a jury finds that the criminal is more than 50% responsible for the injury, the property owner is not liable.
Grall told Florida Politics Wednesday that allowing a criminal’s name to appear in a civil case will be confusing and predicted that the “heinous crimes are the ones that you’re going to see a real struggle for juries.”
The bill also modifies Florida’s bad-faith rules so that insurance companies cannot be sued for bad faith if, prior to a complaint being filed or within 90 days of being notified of the complaint, they tendered the lesser of the policy limits or the amount demanded by the claimant.
Additionally, if there are multiple claimants in a single bad-faith action, the bill allows the insurer at the outset to pay the total amount of the policy limits through an interpleader action. That limits the insurer’s bad-faith liability and makes claimants compete against each other for a share of the money.
March 23, 2023 at 6:20 pm
Had there been any – not some but ANY – effort to roll back premiums for insurers this discussion had merit.
Nope. Payback for billion dollar insurers. State Farm market cap is $73B.
Without some threat of bad faith handling, this bill hurts the every day consumer
March 23, 2023 at 7:36 pm
It will take 3 years or so to fully show the difference, as all the current lawsuits under the old rules have to go through the system. But in 3 years likely premiums will be approximately 20-30% lower than they would have been if nothing changed.
And I could be lowballing that percentage. But bottom line is insurance companies in Florida are only allowed to profit 4-7%. Anything above that and they have to file a rate change with the state.
woke woke woke
March 24, 2023 at 9:49 am
Floriduh – Rona’s leading the change from “due process” to Doo doo process!
March 28, 2023 at 10:36 am
Wrong again Mark. Spoken like someone who has never owned commercial real estate / apartment buildings and has never been sued. WE CANNOT GET INSURANCE because of the attorneys suing us out of business at every turn. . . surely if you even owned a HOME you would see that your premiums have DOUBLED. That is because of the attorneys Mark. . . WAKE UP.
Garry W. Miracle
March 28, 2023 at 5:04 pm
As an attorney that has represented both defendants and plaintiffs in injury cases I agree that there needed to be some changes to the system. Insurance companies have been too quick to roll over and pay claims even when questionable. Plaintiff attorneys are often “creative” in taking clients with weak cases. There are too many chiropractors and doctors (sic) that lie like rungs to help these bogus claims. There should be liability reform focused on those guys, too. The two areas I really dislike are the cut backs in bad faith claims. Insurance companies low ball or stall paying legitimate claims all the time. Just look at what happened after the hurricane and other storm damage. People wait months or years for their policy to cover their damages, if at all. There needs to be severe penalties and attorney fees in thos cases because the insurance commissioner is worthless. The area is that it is expensive to bring a lawsuit and to force people with little or no ability to hire and attorney to try to come up with the money is just plain mean.
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