Florida Seeks Reforms for Insurance Litigation, Frivolous Lawsuits
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Florida lawmakers are readying a series of reforms aimed at frivolous lawsuits that target trucking companies and other small businesses in the state.
“This will be probably the most significant legal reform that’s ever been done in the modern history of the state of Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a Feb. 14 announcement. The measures include eliminating one-way attorney fees and fee multipliers for all lines of insurance, modernizing Florida’s “bad faith” law, and installing protections to shield trucking companies and others from being subject to exorbitant lawsuit damages.
The moves, the state said, are being made to, “disincentivize frivolous lawsuits and realign Florida’s insurance market to promote more competition.”
DeSantis added, “We are working on a series of reforms to be able to make the system better. We want people to be able to have their day in court if they’re harmed, but we don’t want cases that are fought where we know there’s no liability, but nevertheless it adds cost to the system.”
Reacting to the news, Florida Trucking Association President and CEO Alix Miller said, “We are grateful that Florida leadership has been listening to the trucking industry. For too long, trucking has been a target for unscrupulous trial attorneys in Florida. We are confident that comprehensive tort reform legislation will balance out our court system to allow those truly harmed to be made whole while putting the brakes on frivolous lawsuits.”
DeSantis said the legislation, which follows the December enactment of property insurance litigation reform, will address flaws in the state’s legal system and what he described as a longtime “cottage industry” of litigation propelled by lawyers who run billboard advertising along interstates.
Under this proposed legislation, DeSantis’s office said the state’s “bad faith” law would be updated to incentivize good faith between both parties and promote the best interest of the consumer. This provision also would maintain consumer-focused protections to ensure that bad actors are held accountable.
New legislation also would:
- Protect small businesses from paying exorbitant damages when not primarily at fault. (Under current law, fraudsters and con artists prey on small businesses by filing lawsuits even if they are up to 99% at fault if injuries occurred in a crash.)
- Set standards for awarding medical damages by requiring medical records, procedure codes and information regarding health insurance reimbursement to ensure accurate settlements and prevent fraudulent practices.
Joining DeSantis was state House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast), a former military veteran, prosecutor and business attorney, who said laws aimed at “bringing things into balance” will be introduced during the state Legislature session that convenes March 7.
“You should never have a situation where a client gets $200 and a lawyer gets $2,000. That’s about lawyers not about people,” Renner remarked.
Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples), an attorney specializing in business and real estate law, said, “The vast majority of attorneys work very hard to provide sound legal representation for Floridians in these difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, there are a few bad actors who are in the business to draw out civil cases as long as possible, collecting more and more fees from insurance companies, and that has to stop.”
DeSantis said he fully supports updating the state’s legal system to be more in line with the rest of the country.
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Rob Sandlin, president and CEO of Jacksonville-based Patriot Transportation Holding Inc. and Florida Rock & Tank Lines Inc., spoke during an event held to launch the initiative. He’s a 40-year veteran at his company.
“Unfortunately, lawsuit abuse in our state has consistently had us ranked as one of the worst, if not the worst; it’s made it very difficult for us to get affordable insurance,” said Sandlin, a former FTA board chairman. “In many cases, insurance companies have decided just not to write insurance in this state.”
While Patriot has 500 employees, including 400 truck drivers, Sandlin stressed that these kinds of lawsuits can be devastating to much smaller companies.
“When they [smaller trucking companies] get into one of these litigations, the insurance companies don’t have any choice but to charge them more. It gets to the point where they can’t stay in business and your goods don’t get delivered,” Sandlin said. He noted his company’s insurance rates have skyrocketed 73% since 2018, and its coverage has been reduced 60%, forcing it to pay higher premiums for less coverage.
Our member, @FLRockandTank’s Rob Sandlin, joined @GovRonDeSantis, Speaker @Paul_Renner & Senate President @Kathleen4SWFL at @kenworthTruckCo in Jacksonville today. pic.twitter.com/tBYXbviV6Y — Florida Trucking Association (@FloridaTrucking) February 14, 2023
Sandlin noted that Florida’s laws differ from 33 other states, thus creating a favorable climate for frivolous lawsuits and inflated medical damages. This, he said, forces insurance and trucking companies not at fault to settle rather than litigate, and face a court system that may be stacked against them.
“We’re like every other trucking company represented by FTA and the folks in this room here today,” Sandlin said during the event. “If we cause an accident and we hurt somebody, we want to do what’s right and we want to pay for those injuries. We don’t think we should be paying for injuries that we don’t cause, and we don’t think we should be paying for inflated medical damages.”
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