Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Coalition for Legal Reform details reform proposals

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Today, the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Coalition for Legal Reform detailed three of the four common sense legal reforms that, if enacted, it says would improve Florida’s competitiveness and restore justice to families, consumers and small businesses. The three reforms detailed today included expert evidence, fair settlement and accuracy in damages.  The fourth is medical malpractice, which the coalition is supporting in partnership with the health care community.   

“Florida is one of the worst states in the nation for lawsuits; in fact, Florida’s 41st worst legal climate ranking puts our state in the bottom 10 in the nation – a reputation that does nothing to attract new businesses or give existing business owners the confidence they need to grow their business, make investments or increase their workforce,” said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber.  “Today, the Florida Chamber’s Coalition for Legal Reform laid out common sense legal reforms that will help our state take a large step toward eliminating Florida’s reputation as a haven for unfair settlement lawsuits and stop plaintiff attorneys from coming to our state to play the lawsuit lottery.” 

The Coalition for Legal Reform began by addressing the issue of expert evidence in a presentation by Mark Delegal, of Pennington, P.A.  The coalition recommended that the legislature consider adopting the Daubert expert evidence standard. 

“Science and technology have never been as important to the future of Florida and the U.S. as they are today,” said Delegal.  “Yet Florida determines the reliability of expert evidence in its courtrooms by using an unreliable and unpredictable standard created in 1923 – the Frye standard.  This antiquated standard makes Florida an outlier as every federal court in the Union utilizes the modern Daubert standard for expert evidence, as well as almost every state in the Union.  In fact, every Southeastern state – the states that Florida competes with for businesses day in and day out – all use the Daubert Standard.  To have a good economic environment for businesses to expand and prosper, it is vital that we modernize our legal climate to make it consistent and predictable for all.”

Following the discussion on expert evidence, the coalition addressed the Fair Settlement Act, commonly referred to as bad faith, in a presentation by George Meros of GrayRobinson, P.A.  The coalition requested the committee and the legislature to consider implementing a fair timetable for both parties involved in third-party claims, and require that a person bringing an action for bad faith notify the insurer and the department in writing at least 60 days prior to commencement of the suit.

“The problem with our current legal climate is that an incentive currently exists for plaintiff attorneys to frustrate the settlement process and file a bad faith claim in order to turn a policy limit into a multimillion dollar settlement,” said Meros.  “Florida’s worsening bad faith litigation environment leads to encouraging meritless claims, premiums rising, insurers leaving the state and leaving responsible consumers to ultimately foot the bill.  This is bad for consumers, bad for the business community and bad for our overall economic stability as a state.”

The Coalition for Legal Reform concluded by addressing accuracy in damages during a presentation by Mike Mitchell, legislative affairs director for Publix Super Markets, Inc.  The coalition detailed several changes to the current law relating to accuracy in damages, including changing the law so that when the plaintiff has health insurance, the evidence the jury sees reflects the amount the medical care provider actually received for the care they were provided; changing the law so in situations where the plaintiff does not have health insurance, recovery can be limited to past and future medical care by plaintiffs in all personal injury cases to what is customarily accepted for such care; and changing the law to be written so that a party may present valid evidence that treatment was not medically necessary.

“Under current Florida law, during litigation for incidents like slip and falls, defendants, who are often businesses like Publix, can be required to pay two, three, even four times the amount that the plaintiff – or the plaintiff’s insurer – actually paid or will pay for medical care.  These additional amounts are known as phantom damages,” said William Large of the Florida Justice Reform Institute.  “What we presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee today are simple changes to Florida’s legal environment that will help propel our businesses forward and give business owners the confidence and predictability they need to grow their workforce.”

“When you consider that four out of five jobs in Florida will come from small businesses in the next 10 years, and that one of the biggest injustices they face is our state’s current legal climate, restoring justice and fairness is essential,” added Wilson. “We must stop importing litigation to Florida and start growing and importing jobs. Our neighboring competitor states have modernized their legal reform systems and, by not making these changes, we leave Florida at a competitive disadvantage.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.