Business lobbyists say they're confident Chris Dorworth will stay with them on tort reform
Jason Garcia - October 12, 2012
Business lobbyists say they expect future House Speaker Chris Dorwoth will continue to support restrictions on lawsuits as he gains more power in Tallahassee, even though
Florida's trial law have helped the Lake Mary Republican in his re-election bid.
"He's always listened to us. He's always been a strong vote for tort reform," said William Large, President of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, the business-backed group
that lobbies for more restrictions on civil lawsuits. "And I think he's the type of person that can be trusted on tort reforms issues."
Debates over civil lawsuit restrictions - typically referred to by the business lobby as "tort reform" - are often epic battles in the Florida Legislature. That's because they pit two
of the state's richest and most aggressive lobbies - big business and plaintiff's attorneys - against each other.
Dorworth has been a consistent supporter of tort reform bills since he was elected in 2007, voting to impose tighter limits one expert witnesses, restrict lawsuits against car
companies and preserve strict caps on attorney's fees in workers compensation cases, among many other issues.
Yet some prominent members of the Florida Justice Association, the trial lawyer trade group, have been helping Dorworth this election cycle.
The group's incoming chairman, Tallahassee attorney Paul Anderson, discouraged Dorworth's Democratic challenger, Mike Clelland, from running against the future speaker.
Law firms and groups linked to the Justice Association have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Dorworth's CCE. And Orlando personal-injury lawyer John Morgan, a big-time
fundraiser, is a vocal supporter of Dorworth's.
Some Democratic activists say they have heard prominent trial lawyers say Dorworth has promised to support them as he rises in power. One attorney said privately that he
recalled the Justice Association telling members that Dorworth “believes in the sanctity of bad faith,” suggesting Dorworth would be opposed to legislation to restrict such
lawsuits against insurance companies – which is a top priority of the business lobby.
Both Dorworth and the Justice Association say he has made no commitments whatsoever about future tort issues. Dorworth also said he probably would have voted for a bill that
died in House committee this year that would have restricted bad faith lawsuits, though he also said he couldn’t say how he would vote next year because the legislation may change.
“My position is always to listen to both sides of every argument and to make the decision on a case-by-case basis,” Dorworth told the Sentinel.
Mark Wilson, President of Florida Chamber of Commerce, said he is not worried. The Florida Chamber has made limiting bad faith lawsuits one its top issues – so much so that the candidate questionnaire it used to determine legislative endorsements includes a question asking candidates where they agree or disagree with the statement that “the ability for
parties to bring a ‘bad faith’ cause of action against an insurer should be limited to a rightof the policyholder and not extended to third party claimants.”
Though Florida Chamber members – particularly Walt Disney World – have also donated vast sums to Dorworth, Wilson accused the trial lawyers of trying to “buy the votes of people who have not been with them in the past.”
“The Chris Dorworth I know is no Charlie Crist,” Wilson said referring to the former Republican governor turned to Morgan & Morgan law partner and potential Democratic candidate for governor. “Chris Dorworth is intellectually a lot deeper than the trial lawyers want to give him credit for.”