As we continue the 2022 Florida legislative session, it is instructive to look both at where we are and where we going as a state as it relates to the economic impact of lawsuit abuse.
Floridians face huge economic impacts from the abusive systems created by the trial lobby and the state Legislature has another opportunity to push back on frivolous lawsuits. Research shows that lawsuit abuse across the United States results in more than $160 billion in excessive tort costs, resulting in Americans paying about $488 per person each year in a “tort tax.”
For instance, according to a Perryman Group report, the Miami Dade region suffers from excessive tort litigation to the tune of $5.7 billion in direct costs annually. This impacts jobs, income and impacts small businesses in lost gross product of $8.6 billion. Ultimately, the people of this region face a “tort tax” of more than $1,400 per person.
Two years ago, thanks to Gov. Ron DeSantis, his state Supreme Court appointments and the efforts of the Florida Legislature, Florida emerged from a decade long listing on the American Tort Reform Association’s (ATRA) “Judicial Hellholes” which feature the worst 10 states in the nation on legal climate. Unfortunately, the Florida Legislature is on the “watch list” released in December.
Last session began with a bang when DeSantis became the first governor to sign and Tallahassee featured the first Legislature to pass a COVID Liability Protection bill into law. That bill will need to be renewed this session because the protections expire at the end of March. However, many other efforts to help protect Floridians died or were killed by leadership. Several bills have been filed which could either help reduce the financial impact caused by frivolous lawsuits or could expand the ways unscrupulous lawyers abuse the system.
This class of Republican leadership—state Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Tribly, and state House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor–has an opportunity at a second bite at the tort reform apple. But, will they take it?
As the legislative session continues, it is important to identify those who are helping to improve the quality of life for the people of Florida and those who want to create more opportunities to exploit them, following the wishes of unscrupulous attorneys and the trial lobby.
Tort reform litigation can be highly beneficial to society in terms of promoting equal and impartial justice as well as establishing part of the critical context in which economic activity can prosper. It provides for systematic resolution of disputes, reduces conflict, and encourages production using safe practices that benefit society as a whole.
On the other hand, a flawed civil justice system generates exorbitant levels of damage to our business, work and home environments. Frivolous lawsuits and legal loopholes may result in negative impacts through the misallocation of society’s scarce economic and human resources. When such imbalances occur, tort reform can lead to substantial economic benefits and states that have implemented reforms have seen improved judicial efficiency and measurable improvement in economic performance.
If the speaker of the Florida House and the state Senate leadership do not lead on improving our critical homeowners insurance landscape, or tackle any one of the other burdensome issues like private cause of action and which contribute to the excessive and frivolous lawsuit environment, Florida could well slide back onto the Hellholes list.
Tom Gaitens is the executive director of Florida Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (Fl CALA)
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