Florida leads the nation in television ads by trial lawyers seeking plaintiffs for COVID-19 lawsuits, according to a study released by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA).
The study comes at a time when Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Tallahassee find themselves in the midst of a fight surrounding COVID-19 liability protections, with Republicans largely united behind the idea of limiting liability for businesses, health care providers and long-term care facilities, while some Democrats and supporters of the trial bar are staunchly opposed to the measures.
According to the study, Florida accounted for approximately 20 percent of ad spots and spending on legal services TV ads mentioning the coronavirus and seeking clients. An estimated $6.6 million were spent to air the nearly 35,000 ads.
Florida ranks No. 1 nationally both in the amount spent by trial lawyers on ads and the number of ads aired when compared with other U.S. states and national cable and network TV.
“These numbers show just how important it is for Florida lawmakers to work together on a legislative solution to support health care providers, businesses, and their employees who have been on the frontlines, responding to the pandemic, as they’re targeted with lawsuits by plaintiffs’ attorneys,” ATRA President Tiger Joyce said.
But opponents, including Orlando superlawyer John Morgan, have ripped efforts to limit liability, especially among nursing homes, which he says don’t deserve any liability protections.
“Covid swept this country because nursing homes are filthy murder factories and have been for years,” Morgan wrote in sharply-worded email to The Capitolist last week. “Half of all COVID deaths occurred there. So yeah, let’s give them immunity to keep killing our parents and grandparents. Sounds like a worthy project for the chamber of commerce.”
To date, three bills regarding COVID-19 liability protections have been fast-tracked through committees as Republican lawmakers look to pass one of Governor Ron DeSantis‘s top priorities. State Senator Jeff Brandes has led the charge in the Senate, introducing a measure (SB 74) related to COVID-19 liability claims against healthcare providers and another bill (SB 72) which would create civil liability protections for individuals, businesses, and other organizations against COVID-19-related claims.
State Representative Lawrence McClure is spearheading legislation (HB 7) on the House side.
SB 74 is scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, while SB 72 was reported favorably out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 25 by a vote of 7-4. HB 7 is one step away from a key vote in the House after it reported favorably out of the House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee on February 3.
“It is encouraging to see Florida’s legislature working toward enacting reasonable liability protections for businesses, health care providers and countless other organizations to protect them from entrepreneurial trial attorneys who seek to profit from the pandemic,” Joyce said
Despite the concerns of Morgan and his fellow trial lawyers, a number of prominent Republicans appear to be unified behind the initiative. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has been one of the lead advocates for such protections, while groups like the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) and Florida Hospital Association (FHA) have also emphasized the need for COVID-19 liability protections during the 2021 Legislative Session.
The legislation has also received support from Floridians. A poll, released last week by the Florida Chamber, showed that voters in the state are in favor of protections for businesses that followed public health protocols and guidelines, with 74 percent of the participants supporting a bill that shields businesses from “bad actors.” When extended to include doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes, support for liability protections increased to 78 percent, according to the poll.