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Maurice Langston: Tort Costs Weigh Down Economic Progress

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Economic growth is a topic of nearly constant discussion and debate in almost every community around the United States especially as we come out of the COVID-19 shutdown. In too many communities, and particularly here in Florida, small businesses and seniors on fixed-incomes are also beginning to deal with price increases associated with inflation driven by loose monetary policy.

Another significant cost that continues to plague Floridians is the rising tort tax. In its annual report released earlier this year, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse turns the spotlight onto this significant expense. Every year, small businesses spend an incredible amount of resources fighting tort cases brought against them. These costs are shifted onto consumers as prices incorporate both real and potential lawsuit fees.

The report shows that what might be termed frivolous tort cases in Florida cost hundreds of millions of dollars in total financial impact. It’s a problem that affects all of Florida’s citizens on a more personal level as well, as excessive tort cases can annually cause individuals to spend thousands of dollars in increased prices.

In another report, the American Tort Reform Association also brought attention to the lengths to which trial attorneys will go to earn inflated contracts with states and municipalities on a “contingency fee” basis, meaning they’re entitled to a specific – and an often grossly over-inflated – percentage of any winnings or settlement in a case involving public entities. A number of Florida-based firms are called out in the report for taking part in the infamous tobacco litigation in the 1990s, abusing personal-injury claims, taking advantage of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, going after drug producers for the opioid crisis, and more.

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It’s not uncommon in advertisements and other messaging for these attorneys to claim they are pursuing some greater good with these lawsuits. Unfortunately for citizens across the country, that “greater good” is usually the attorneys’ bank accounts. In the process of negotiating their contingency fees, they often walk away from these cases with millions that could otherwise be used to help the clients, taxpayers, and agencies they represent.

It is important to speak up and speak out to our leaders and urge them to take action and enact common-sense tort reforms that prevent abuses of our civil justice system and allow Florida’s businesses, courts, and citizens to go about their business without the threat of constant and excessive lawsuits hanging over their heads. Doing so would be good for consumers, taxpayers, and small businesses across the board.

Maurice Langston is the Chairman of the Florida Council for Safe Communities.

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