David Biddle Opinion: Florida Lawmakers Need to Tackle Lawsuit Abuse

The escalating dollar figures awarded in personal injury lawsuits might be good for trial lawyers,‭ ‬but they are terrible for most of the people of Florida.‭

Taking advantage of legal loopholes makes the cost of everything—from insurance rates to everyday goods and services—go up across the board.‭

The recent hurricanes should serve as a reminder that our‭ ‬state‭ ‬lawmakers,‭ ‬who are meeting this week in Tallahassee for a special session,‭ ‬need to tackle lawsuit abuse. They can start by reforming the lack of transparency in damages that our courts review when considering a lawsuit.‭

The greatest element of economic damages awarded in a personal injury lawsuit is often the cost of medical treatment.‭ ‬In Florida,‭ ‬only the‭ ‬billed amount of medical treatment is admissible as evidence in trials, which prevents‭ ‬a judge and jury from knowing the true‭ ‬accuracy in damages.

Accuracy‭ ‬in damages is simply knowing what the actual paid medical bill is‭ ‬versus‭ ‬what was charged.‭ ‬Most people are not surprised to hear that the amount a medical provider‭ ‬bills‭ ‬for services is usually much more than the amount the provider is actually‭ ‬willing to accept in payment.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬in Florida,‭ ‬the jury only sees the amount‭ ‬billed when determining damages in a case.‭

Using billed charges hides from the jury exactly how much the claimant has actually been damaged.‭ ‬Unfortunately,‭ ‬the inflated‭ ‬billed‭ ‬amount creates a false impression that misleads juries as they determine total damages.‭ ‬In addition,‭ ‬because the jury awards damages for future medical care,‭ ‬after seeing inflated‭ ‬billed amounts,‭ ‬the future care award is oftentimes inflated as well.

Another questionable tactic is what is called a‭ ‬Letter of Protection.‭ ‬This‭ ‬is an agreement between the claimant’s lawyer and the medical provider,‭ ‬where the provider agrees not to collect until the lawsuit is over,‭ ‬so the‭ “‬paid‭” ‬amount the provider would have accepted is not available to the judge for consideration.‭ ‬Since judges are not allowed to reduce an award for medical bills not yet paid,‭ ‬a‭ ‬Letter of Protection‭ ‬hides these bills from the judge’s reach,‭ ‬inflating the total damages.

Essentially,‭ ‬trial lawyers‭ ‬are‭ ‬utilizing‭ ‬legal loopholes where they can coordinate with medical providers to inflate a plaintiff’s medical bills and conceal the true cost of monetary damages from a judge and jury.‭ ‬When this happens,‭ ‬businesses defending themselves in many cases pay out more than what the plaintiff should have a right to receive.‭ ‬This‭ ‬inflation in damages allows lawyers to rake in more money for themselves than what is appropriate.‭ ‬That gets passed on to rate-payers across the board,‭ ‬and everyone pays more as a result.‭

Lawsuit abuse is a problem that hits all Floridians every day.‭ ‬Currently,‭ ‬trial lawyers have an incentive to take advantage of our state’s legal system for their own benefit,‭ ‬and when they do,‭ ‬it hurts everyone.‭

Our state lawmakers need to address this issue head-on,‭ ‬not only for the sake of fairness for insurers and businesses‭ ‬but for the economic welfare of all Florida taxpayers.‭

David Biddle‭ is the chairman of the Florida Conservative Action Fund.

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