Florida is poised to make legal reform history during its upcoming legislative session. In February, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, and House Speaker Paul Renner unveiled a comprehensive legal reform package designed to protect Florida consumers and businesses from abusive and excessive lawsuits.
HB 837 tackles Florida’s troubled lawsuit system head on. The reforms in the package 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 one-way attorney fee shifting, which currently allows 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 would only be able to 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 plaintiff’s 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.
- HB 837 will require healthcare reimbursement cost information to be transparent, so juries can make fair and accurate decisions about damages. The bill will also allow any possible scheme to be brought to light if lawyers are referring 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. A recent ILR economic study found that, in 2020, every Florida household paid more than $5,000 into the state’s tort system—one of the highest tort costs in the country. A separate study determined that Florida saw the most nuclear verdicts (jury verdicts of $10 million or more) between 2010 and 2019, with a median award of $20 million.
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 in May and December of last year, the legislature enacted commonsense reforms to change Florida’s troubled property insurance litigation culture.
When the pandemic caused uncertainty for businesses and healthcare providers, Florida enacted some of the nation’s strongest protections against excessive COVID-19-related lawsuits, and it extended the protections when they were set to expire.
Gov. DeSantis has also prioritized making sure the Florida courts have judges who will follow the rule of law, not the trial bar’s agenda. The Florida Supreme Court has put in place positive judicial reforms by rejecting attempts to allow non-attorney investment in law firms as well as by adopting the Apex Doctrine, the federal standard for summary judgment, and the Daubert standard for the admittance of expert evidence. These reforms ensure that Florida’s courts are fairer and more efficient so that economic opportunities may flourish.
A fair and balanced legal environment matters. 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.” Florida can be even more competitive in attracting companies by continuing to make sure trial lawyers aren’t calling the shots.
The legislature should pass HB 837 quickly as possible so Gov. DeSantis can sign it into law.