- House Republican leaders spoke in support of House Bill 837 on Friday, which seeks to impose reformed limitations on lawsuits in order to make it more difficult for Floridians to take action against insurance companies.
- Provisions in the bill include eliminating one-way attorney fees, restricting fee multiplier incentives, providing more detail in medical cases, and decreasing the statute of limitations from four years to two years
- Business advocates support the bill, arguing that frivolous lawsuits are driving up the costs of doing business in Florida.
Following its clearance by the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on Friday by a 12 to 6 vote, Republican lawmakers including House Speaker Paul Renner spoke on House Bill 837, which seeks to impose limitations on lawsuits to make it more difficult for Floridians to take legal action against insurance companies.
The bill includes several provisions, that if adopted, would impact the state’s litigation environment, including a significant limitation on fee multiplier incentives. Lawyers will additionally no longer be able to collect higher fees through claims of bad faith on the part of insurance companies. Verdicts in negligence cases will be fairer, according to Renner, as fault assessment will be tweaked and juries will be provided with more details in medical cases.
Moreover, the legislation seeks to reduce frivolous lawsuits and threats of litigation by eliminating one-way attorney fees that incentivize fraudulent claims. Following an adopted amendment proposed during the subcommittee hearing, the bill would also decrease the statute of limitation in litigation cases from four years to two years.
“We have by far the highest property insurance in the country. We also have, depending on who you ask one of the highest auto insurance rates in the country,” said Renner. “There’s no doubt that by trying to reach balance in our litigation climate, we will allow for affordability to be brought to all Floridians.”
DeSantis, who pledged immediate support when the bill was first unveiled, cited a statistic during a press conference last week showing that Florida accounted for eight percent of all property insurance claims nationally, but 80 percent of property insurance litigation.
In a special session late last year, the Florida Legislature approved legislation to address the ongoing property insurance crisis, which was partially spurred by excessive lawsuits.
Senate Bill 2D, signed during the special session, sought to reduce frivolous litigation by reserving attorney fee multipliers, requiring proof that an insurer breached its agreement with a policyholder before a lawsuit can be filed, and preventing insureds from transferring their unilateral right to receive attorneys’ fees to contractors.
Within the last two years, at least eight policy writers have exited the Florida market, oftentimes citing a volatile market and heightened levels of risk due to worsening storm seasons and aging infrastructure.
“Floridians know, it’s common sense to them. They can tell by the number of insurance companies going bankrupt and fleeing the state, and they can tell by their insurance premiums that there’s something amiss here,” said bill co-sponsor Tommy Gregory. “The civil justice system really is operating like a casino … because we have one-way fees, because we have inflated fee multipliers, and because we have inflated and excessive damages. This bill is designed to address those problems and bring the civil justice system back into equilibrium.”
Business advocates backed the House bill on Friday, including President of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Mark Wilson, who remarked earlier this week that “frivolous” lawsuits are driving up the costs of doing business in the state.
“Florida has a lot of things going right for it, but we also have the fifth-worst legal climate in the United States, and that’s making everything more expensive,” said Wilson. “We have more billboards in Florida telling you to sue someone than any country on the planet, let alone any other state, and the lawyers on those billboards are making your food more expensive, your gas more expensive, and your insurance cost more. That’s why the Florida Chamber is here to support common sense game-changing relief”
According to information provided by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, lawsuit abuse and excessive tort costs wipe out billions of dollars of economic activity on an annual basis. In 2021, there were 100,595 lawsuits in Florida resulting in $7.8 billion in damages, while there were 24,700 lawsuits nationally that yielded $2.4 billion in damages across the same timeframe.
“The significant changes made in this bill will help stop trial attorneys from filing countless frivolous lawsuits so they can make a profit while harming businesses across Florida and raising costs for consumers,” said the Associated Industries of Florida. “[We look] forward to seeing this good public policy continue through the process.”