Many small businesses across Florida are just now starting to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic. After a chaotic 18 months, the most important thing business owners need, now more than ever, is certainty. Unfortunately, too many businesses are left in the dark when it comes to planning for the future because of rising health insurance costs. It’s no secret that starting a new business is a daunting challenge. Now imagine starting a new business at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Needless to say, it’s never been harder for entrepreneurs to pursue the quintessential American dream of owning their own business.
There is another major obstacle for small businesses in the Sunshine State: lawsuits. Take the issue of premises liability for instance. Most small business owners do everything they can to follow the rules and keep their customers safe. However, our state’s legal system, pocketed with some exotic loopholes, creates financial incentives for lawyers to take a shot at trying to get a settlement even when there is no clear evidence for carelessness or dereliction.
There have been numerous stories of innocent small business owners threatened with bankruptcy because they couldn’t afford the massive legal fees necessary to defend themselves in court. Thus, they negotiate for a quick settlement just to make the lawsuit go away. Permitting our small businesses to endure a constant financial choice of “settle for less or pay more to fight” is nothing more than courtroom bullying and will result in jobs and economic growth leaving the state as we continue to recover from the pandemic.
This is not sustainable. It’s time for Florida’s lawmakers to ensure our legal system works for everyone — not just plaintiffs looking for a quick payout.
Based on the science of lawsuits, something must be done. In a recent survey, Florida ranked 46th in the U.S. for its prevalence of liability lawsuits against businesses compared to other states, and those costs get passed on to consumers. Additionally, Florida has been tagged as a ‘Judicial Hellhole,’ and as I write this, Florida is the state with more insurance lawsuits than any other state in the country, according to data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).
No one wants to deny a legitimate claim, but when a system is broken, it must be repaired. Lawsuit activity impacts everyone, and we all pay higher prices when a small business has to build legal retainers, settlements, and litigation negotiation into the cost of their products and services.
Size does matter, but the smaller the better when it comes to the prices we pay. Rising inflation is already taking hold. The 2022 legislative session is right around the corner. Let’s take some small steps like lawsuit reform to reduce prices now.
Mike Wheeler is a tort reform advocate and transportation specialist from New Port Richey.