Tampa attorneys speak out against Florida tort reform bill currently in session
Personal injury attorneys and doctors say the bill will negatively affect anyone who drives a car in Florida.
By: Stassy OlmosPosted at 11:23 AM, Mar 08, 2023 and last updated 7:03 PM, Mar 08, 2023
TAMPA, Fla. — One of the biggest tasks the Florida legislature has this session is a bill Governor Ron DeSantis wants passed known as monumental insurance tort reform, but there are some major concerns surfacing in the Tampa Bay community.
“Everybody who has car insurance in the state of Florida, who drives a car in the state of Florida, rides in a car in the state of Florida will be negatively affected by this bill,” said Attorney Keith Ligori of Ligori and Ligori in Tampa.
Ligori is one of several attorneys who represent personal injury, wrongful death, and insurance lawsuits that are raising red flags about the civil remedies bills now in the House and Senate.
“It's packaged with a big red bow, gift wrapped, at the expense of businesses, families, and folks who have been injured probably at the lowest point in their lives,” said Stephen Barnes of Barnes Trial Group.
Here’s the basics of what’s in the bill:
1. Limits one-way attorney fees and fee multipliers that an insurance company pays
“What we've seen is a lot of lawsuits over low dollar amounts that were really about attorney's fees,” Large said. “These lawsuits sometimes are brought over $2, $100, $200, and it's not about the amount of controversy; it's about the attorney's fees associated with fighting the amount of controversy that leads to needless litigation."
Tampa attorneys are concerned it will do the opposite.
“What this bill does is it allows the insurance companies to be able to delay, delay, delay and deny claims and then pay out lowball claims,” Ligori said. “And what's gonna happen is these cases are going to all get litigated now because the way the law is written, they have 90 days after you file suit, so all they're doing is this bill is really promoting is more litigation."
“By creating tort reform, sure, it hurts personal injury lawyers, but the reality is who it really hurts is the consumer, the person who's been injured, and who does it really help? The wrongdoer, the individual, a corporation, you're trying to hold accountable,” said Scott Distasio of Distasio Personal Injury Law.
The bill also lays out standards for the cost of medical care for all claims with the goal of not allowing doctors to inflate costs.
“If you have health insurance, and the bill wasn't paid yet, the numbers should be what the health insurance would be. Number two, if you have health insurance and didn't use it, it should be what the health insurance would have paid,” Large explained.
“If you do not have health insurance at all, what should that number have been? One marker potentially is the Medicare number. If Medicare doesn't treat something, the language of the bill says the number should be 140% of Medicaid.”
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found private insurers pay nearly double medicare rates for all hospital services at 199%, 143% for physician visits, and an average of 264% for outpatient services.
Kaiser Family Foundation
“What incentive or motivation does the doctor have to see somebody, get typically Medicaid — the lowest rate out there, and still possibly not even get paid on the treatment that they're providing?” exclaimed Dr. Jay Parekh, an interventional spine and joint physician in Tampa.
Parekh said one of his biggest concerns is that patients with health insurance will get delayed care, and those without may be denied care
“I've had patients who've had massive herniated discs following a car accident, who need immediate surgery. And we don't really realize that until they get that MRI done,” he said. “Now, if this bill goes through, and that patient has to wait two to four weeks or six weeks to have an MRI done, they might get paralyzed.”
He added, “I actually have a close friend of mine… a physician, he is not allowed to see patients who have been in motor vehicle accidents. The only way this spine surgeon can see a patient has been involved in a motor vehicle accident is if that patient goes to the emergency room.”
Attorneys also expressed concern regarding comparative negligence reform, which they say will allow those who are found almost equally at fault in an accident can walk away without paying any damages.
For example, Barnes said someone texting and driving who runs a stop sign and injures another driver.
“The insurance company for the person who was texting and ran the stop sign can go hire an expert and figure out that maybe the other driver was going five or 10 miles over the speed limit. And then make an argument that ‘You know what? Their speeding was 51% the cause of this accident, and the texter that ran the stop sign was 49%. Under this bill, the person who was texting and ran a stop sign would get off without paying a dime, so would their insurance company,” he said.
In the governor’s press conference in February, the CEO of Patriot Transportation Trucking Company said this tort reform bill will help the trucking industry stay in business.
“Since 2018, our insurance rates have gone up by 73%, and we’ve reduced our coverage by 60%,” said Rob Sandlin, President/CEO at Patriot Transportation.
The question is: will insurance rates really go down?
"This is politics," Ligori expressed. “Nowhere in the bill does it say that they guarantee the reduced rates by the amount of money that they save by not paying off the claims."
These attorneys and doctors are pleading with the legislature to rework the bill before they consider passing it this session.
The House and Senate currently have similar versions of the bill on the table— HB 837 and SB 236. Both the House speaker and the Senate president spoke in favor of passing the bill at the governor's press conference in February.
“It’s unacceptable for the free state of Florida to be considered a judicial hellhole,” Representative Tom Fabricio said in a press release. “While attorneys have a responsibility to passionately represent their clients, some have abused the system for purely financial gain. HB 837 will bring balance to the system and protect the legal rights of Floridians to access the courts while disincentivizing and reducing the number of frivolous lawsuits.”
Read more of the opinion regarding the bill from the Florida Justice Reform Institute below.
Tort Reform Package One-Pager 1.3 by ABC Action News on Scribd