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Renzo Downey - December 7, 2021

The Legislature, not so much.

Despite the Legislature landing on a watch list of “Judicial Hellholes,” the Florida Justice Reform Institute says Florida has improved its standing for the third year in a row.

No Florida jurisdictions appeared on the American Tort Reform Association’s ranking of eight “Judicial Hellholes” in the nation. However, the group’s annual report, the latest installment of which was released Tuesday, flagged the Florida Legislature on its watchlist, citing a history of abusive litigation in the state.

“Despite all the work done by the Florida Supreme Court and Gov. Ron DeSantis to mitigate lawsuit abuse, much-needed reforms continue to stall in the Florida Legislature,” according to the report. “Without these reforms, the trial bar is still able to capitalize, and they know it. Issues that need to be addressed include inflated medical damages, bad faith reform, litigation financing and attorneys’ fees multipliers.”

Florida ranked as the worst “Hellhole” in the nation as recently as the group’s 2018 report. It fell to number two in 2019. It fell off the ranking in 2020, landing instead on the watch list. The state as a whole, minus the Legislature, fell off the list in this year’s report.

William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, praised DeSantis for his actions since he took office nearly three years ago, in January 2019.

“From ensuring businesses could reopen after the COVID-19 shutdown without fear of an avalanche of lawsuits, to combatting frivolous property insurance litigation, to the downstream effects of his judicial appointments, Gov. DeSantis continues to pull Florida out of the judicial hellhole we were in not so long ago,” Large said.

The American Tort Reform Association reported lawmakers have failed for multiple years to enact reforms related to phantom damages, bad faith claims and more. Among the nearly 3,000 bills that were filed but never passed last Session was legislation that would have established a “reckless disregard” standard for bad faith claims against insurers. The measure, carried by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, never received a hearing and didn’t attract a House counterpart.

“Plaintiffs’ lawyers in Florida have long abused what are known as ‘letters of protection’ to inflate medical expenses for the purpose of lawsuits,” said the group’s president, Tiger Joyce. “The use of inflated billed amounts only increases the overall cost of the judicial system, spreading the financial burden on the backs of every American through higher costs on goods and services.”

Unlike the Legislature, the Supreme Court was named a “Point of Light” in the Judicial Hellholes report for helping to create a more fair and balanced civil justice system.

Large also credited the Court for doing its part by adopting a federal summary judgment standard, improving fairness and efficiency by saving the work of juries for when “real facts” are “in dispute.” Additionally, the Court ruled Florida’s “apex doctrine” extended to high-ranking corporate officers, protecting them from depositions and discovery he said were meant to harass and force meritless settlements.

 “By using their exclusive rulemaking authority to address entrenched, systemic problems, the Florida Supreme Court is remaking our judicial system for the better,” Large said. “And we have Governor DeSantis to thank for it.”

California earned the worst spot on the list of “Judicial Hellholes,” followed by New York. The Georgia Supreme Court, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania courts, and major Illinois counties’ courts rounded out the top 5. Louisiana, St. Louis and South Carolina finished off the Hellholes list.