Florida Legislature again lands on Judicial Hellholes Watch List

by | Dec 6, 2022

  • ATRF says lawmakers’ lack of action on legal reform is to blame for inclusion
  • The group argues that the legislature needs to address issues including inflated medical damages and deceptive trial lawyer advertising 
  • From 2010 to 2019, Florida produced the most nuclear verdicts (213) of any state in the country according to a recent study by the U.S. Chamber

While Florida recently shed its ‘Judicial Hellhole’ status after years in purgatory, the state’s legislature remains on the “Watch List” of the annual report published by the American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF).

Despite work by the Florida Supreme Court and an upcoming special session to address property insurance issues, ATRF said in its Tuesday report that much-needed reforms continue to stall in the Florida Legislature.

“We applaud the legislature for enacting reforms during a special session earlier this year to address the ongoing property insurance crisis in the state, but there is still much work to be done to remove the state once and for all from the Judicial Hellholes® report,” American Tort Reform Association President Tiger Joyce said.

ATRF specifically pointed to Florida trial lawyers claiming that they have long abused “letters of protection” to inflate damages for medical care. According to the group, letters of protection are agreements between a person who needs medical care, his or her lawyer, and a healthcare provider under which the healthcare provider agrees to not seek to collect a fee for medical treatment through the patient’s insurance coverage, but instead wait to collect out of an expected settlement or judgment.

While these letters can serve a legitimate purpose when a person is uninsured and unable to pay for medical expenses, ATRF notes some Florida lawyers recommend that their clients avoid using their insurance to cover medical expenses but rely on a letter of protection.

Under Florida law, at trial, jurors only hear evidence of the initially invoiced amount of medical expenses, which ATRF says is essentially a “sticker price.”

After a verdict, judges are required to adjust the award to reflect the actual amount of medical expenses paid and accepted, a process called a “set off.” But, ATRF reports that Florida’s personal injury lawyers often use letters of protection to avoid this set off. By avoiding submission of treatment invoices for payment until after trial, they say there is no amount paid for a judge to set off the award.

“Legislative reforms can ensure that jurors receive accurate information on the actual value of medical expenses and prohibit abuse of letters of protection,” Joyce said.

ATRF highlighted that the Sunshine State is also home to more property insurance lawsuits than the rest of the country combined and remains a hot spot for high-dollar, “nuclear” verdicts. A recent study from the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform found that Florida produced more nuclear verdicts than any other state in the country.

ATRF says the prevalence of nuclear verdicts in Florida can be attributed to a handful of issues including inflated medical damages, the abuse of letters of protection, and large punitive damages awards.

“Lawsuit abuse and excessive tort costs wipe out billions of dollars of economic activity annually,” Joyce continued. “While it may be some perceived deep-pocketed company that gets hit with massive verdicts, it’s unfortunately consumers who pay the price in the form of higher costs on goods and services – and now in the midst of record-high inflation.”

Florida residents pay an annual “tort tax” of $812.52 per person and more than 173,000 jobs are lost each year, according to a recent study. ATRF says if Florida enacted specific reforms targeting lawsuit abuse, the state would increase its gross product by over $17.66 billion.

The legislature is expected to address additional property insurance reforms in a special session, scheduled to begin next Monday.

To view the full report, click here.


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