Florida House committee approves tort reform bill

By Andrew Powell | The Center Square contributor
Florida House committee approves tort reform bill

(The Center Square) — Florida could be getting tough on tort reform if a new bill passed by the House Civil Justice Committee is signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, R- Palm Coast, held a news conference at the conclusion of the committee meeting in Tallahassee Friday to discuss tort reform and the passage of House Bill 837.

The bill would put limits on fee multiplier incentives for lawyers, which allow them to collect higher fees when they sue. It would also eliminate the ability of attorneys to use "vague and meritless claims" to claim bad faith on the part of insurance companies.

HB 837 would also provide a fairer assessment of fault in negligence cases and also provide juries in medical cases with more detail and transparency.

The bill would also eliminate one-way attorney fees, which Renner says incentivizes fraudulent or inflated claims. The statute of limitations on civil actions would also be reduced from four to two years. Juries would also be required under HB 837 to consider the fault of an intentional wrongdoer in some negligence cases.

Renner said he wants to bring balance back to Florida.

"We lead the nation in so many different areas and were almost dead last when it comes to our litigation climate." Renner said.

State Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Lakewood Ranch, said the bill was designed to address the problems plaguing the system, including bloated attorney fees, fee multipliers and inflated and excessive damages.

"Floridians know," Gregory said. "It's common sense to them, they can tell by the number of insurance companies going bankrupt and fleeing the state and they can tell by their insurance premiums that there’s something amiss in the legal climate here." 

Mark Wilson from the Florida Chamber of Commerce said that Florida has the fifth worst legal climate in the United States.

"That’s making everything more expensive, as a matter of fact, we have more billboards in Florida telling you to sue someone than any country on the planet, let alone any other state." Wilson said.

Wilson added that those billboard lawyers seen everywhere in the Sunshine State are the reason Floridians are paying more for their food, gas and groceries.

Giovanni Castro from Uber Technologies said there is a clear problem with the legal climate in Florida.

Uber is the largest consumer of auto insurance in Florida and possibly the United States and when lawsuit costs to Uber are compared in various states, by far one of the most expensive states is Florida, according to Castro.

Castro further said throughout Florida there are billboards incentivizing users to take legal action against Uber, adding that he was happy that the bill was passed to stop costs being passed on to taxpayers.

Sal Nuzzo is the Senior Vice President of the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee. He said that Florida gets so much right when it comes to policy, but this is something that should have been changed a long while ago.

"The abuse of our civil litigation system hurts every single Floridian. It clogs up our court system, reducing access to those who desperately need it. It siphons off thousands of dollars to every Floridian each year and it also hinders our growth, especially among our small businesses." Nuzzo said.

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