Florida has enacted the biggest legal reform bill in decades. The Florida House of Representatives and Senate both voted this month to pass HB 837, and Gov. Ron DeSantis just signed the package into law.
The bill protects Florida consumers and businesses from abusive billboard trial lawyer tactics. Some of the reforms in the bill include:
- Protecting small businesses from paying massive damages when they are not primarily at fault. Under current law, trial lawyers can pressure businesses to settle lawsuits even when the plaintiff is 99 percent at fault for an injury.
- Ensuring that criminals are accountable for their actions. Trial lawyers have taken advantage of Florida’s current laws to force businesses to pay for crimes they couldn’t predict or prevent but that took place on their property, while making no effort to hold criminals liable for the damage they caused.
- Eliminating most one-way attorney fee shifting, which allowed plaintiffs’ lawyers to recover attorneys’ fees without paying defendants’ costs after filing abusive lawsuits.
- Limiting fee multipliers, which allow plaintiffs’ lawyers to inflate their costs rather than charge based on the time they actually spent on a case. Under HB 837, plaintiffs could only use these multipliers when an attorney otherwise couldn’t be hired.
- Building on the reforms enacted in December 2022 to modernize Florida’s “bad faith” law. HB 837 will require lawyers to prove that insurers actually behaved improperly before demanding more money than an insurance policy allows. By preventing plaintiffs’ lawyers from using technicalities and legal loopholes to shake down insurance companies and drive up litigation costs, HB 837 will bolster the state’s troubled insurance markets.
- Requiring healthcare reimbursement cost information to be transparent so that juries can make fair and accurate decisions about damages. The bill will also bring any possible scheme to light if lawyers refer plaintiffs to select doctors who will inflate costs and receive payment from lawsuit proceeds.
These reforms come at a critical time. For years, trial lawyers have had free rein to abuse Florida’s lawsuit system, with real costs to consumers and businesses. This major reform measure builds on Florida’s recent efforts to curb lawsuit abuse and change its pro-trial lawyer reputation. During special legislative sessions convened last May and December, the legislature enacted commonsense reforms to change Florida’s troubled property insurance litigation culture.
Why does this bill matter? Because businesses want to invest in states with fair and balanced lawsuit systems. A record-high 89 percent of in-house counsel and senior litigators surveyed for ILR’s 2019 lawsuit climate survey said that “a state’s lawsuit environment is likely to impact their company’s decisions about where to locate or do business.”
This is a watershed moment for legal reform. Thanks to Gov. DeSantis and the legislature, Florida can be a model for other states. Check out ILR’s guide, 101 Ways, for reforms lawmakers can enact to follow Florida’s lead.
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