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April 22, 2008

U.S. Chamber: Florida Legal Climate Loses Ground in Annual Survey

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) today announced that Florida’s legal climate slipped backwards—down six spots to number 42—in its annual assessment of state liability systems conducted by Harris Interactive, a leading nonpartisan market research firm.

The study also shows that Miami-Dade County remains one of the ten least fair and reasonable lawsuit environments in the country, reflecting a growing concern within the national business community over the size of non-economic and punitive damages awards.

“Although former Governor Bush and the Florida Legislature passed important legal reforms over the last several years, Florida still has a long way to go,” said Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The plaintiffs’ bar is working day and night to block further reforms and to roll back existing ones.”

The Harris survey is the preeminent standard by which companies, policymakers and the media measure the legal environment of states.

A separate survey of Florida business owners found 86 percent believe frivolous lawsuits are a serious problem, 61 percent think the number of unfair lawsuits against businesses in Florida will increase over the next five years, and 65 percent want the Florida Legislature to enact new laws to help protect business from unfair and frivolous suits.

“The best thing Florida can do to attract business is to have a balanced legal system,” Donohue said.  “An unfair legal system sucks the life out of a state’s economy.  It affects business expansion, it affects jobs and it takes money out of consumers’ pockets.”

ILR is launching a national advertising campaign highlighting the results of the study and the need for comprehensive legal reform, including television, radio and online ads in Tallahassee.

Harris asked 957 senior attorneys to evaluate up to five states in which they were “very” or “somewhat familiar” with that state’s litigation environment.  Survey respondents assigned each state a letter grade for each of 12 different factors affecting the states’ tort liability system, ranging from the overall treatment of tort and contract litigation to judges’ competence and impartiality, and Harris computed an overall score for each state based on these evaluations.

The survey of 250 Florida business owners, 86 percent of them small businesses with fewer than 20 employees, was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies earlier this month.  It has a margin of error of +/- 7 percent.

ILR’s mission is to make America’s legal system simpler, fairer, and faster for everyone. It seeks to promote civil justice reform through legislative, political, judicial, and educational activities at the national, state, and local levels. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation, representing more than 3 million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region.

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