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Crashworthiness passed in 2011; PIP to be considered in 2012

By Angie Drobnic Holan - January 4, 2012

Rick Scott made many promises during the campaign to help business, and one of those promises included tort reform.

Generally speaking, tort reform means putting new legal limits on attorneys that sue companies for damages. It can take many forms: It might be a law that says juries can only award plaintiffs a certain amount of money, or rules that require attorneys to meet tougher standards for evidence when they go to trial. It can also apply to specific areas such as medical malpractice, auto insurance, or product liability. Usually, tort reform has the result of putting restrictions on personal injury lawsuits.

We asked advocates both for and against tort reform how Scott was doing on his promise.

The business-backed Florida Justice Reform Institute, created by the Florida Chamber of Commerce to fight what it calls "wasteful” litigation, gave Scott a positive review.

"As far as I'm concerned, Gov. Scott has done an excellent job on leading these issues and using the bully pulpit,” said William Large, the institute"s president.

Trial lawyers, though, had a different take. The Florida Justice Association sees Scott's actions as encroaching on consumers' rights.

"If the measure is whether or not citizens have fewer rights when it comes to lawsuits against bad actors as a result of Gov. Scott's term, I think the answer is yes,” said Steven Schale, a spokesman for the group.

Scott's top accomplishment might be signing a law passed during the 2011 legislative session that affected lawsuits about car crashes and defective vehicles. The law, referred to as "crashworthiness,” said that jurors must consider other factors when determining fault for a crash, such as whether the driver was impaired or not.

The Governor's Office pointed us to the "crashworthiness” law as evidence it was keeping its promise, as well as a few other measures that limit lawsuits.

This is all positive evidence that Scott is keeping his broad promise on tort reform. But we're not ready to give him a Promise Kept just yet.

Both Scott and state legislators say they expect to take action in 2012 on Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. Investigators say that PIP insurance is being abused by people staging car accidents and then filing bogus claims against auto insurers.

Possible changes to the law include caps on attorneys fees; limits on medical procedures; stricter regulation of pain clinics; and giving insurers more time to investigate claims.

We'll wait and see if Scott ultimately signs a law to make such major changes. For now, we rate this promise In the Works.