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Florida Is In Need Of Lawsuit Reform

Since 2002, the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) produces an annual ranking that identifies states where judges continually misapply laws and court procedures in civil cases. As a result of misapplication, civil cases in these states are often heard in an unfair and unbalanced manner, typically at the expense of defendants. Number one on this year’s list? Florida.

The ATRA’s Study

The ATRA is a nonprofit corporation whose purpose is to educate the general public about how the civil justice system functions. This is important to note because it means ATRA is generally unbiased in their reviews.

The study identified eight jurisdictions or courts where judges seem to ignore precedent, and seek to expand civil liabilities instead. In doing so, judges fail to respect lawmakers’ policy-making authority.

The full ranking of the eight jurisdictions can be seen below.

1. Florida
2. California
3. St. Louis, Missouri
4. New York City Asbestos Litigation
5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
6. New Jersey
7. Madison and Cook Counties, Illinois
8. Louisiana

The report also put a few areas on their watch list and highlighted a few dishonorable mentions and points of light that were cause for concern.

A Growing Problem

Although Florida’s civil proceedings have always raised red flags with the American Tort Reform Association, this is the first year that Florida has ranked number one overall.

The report took heavy aim at Florida’s Supreme Court, highlighting the fact that the majority is more focused on partisan politics than respecting the law. In 2019, three state Supreme Court justices face mandatory retirement, and it appears that other justices are focused on influencing the judicial selection process.

The ATRA also criticized the Supreme Court for undermining patient safety and influencing the monetary results of cases. According to the report, Florida’s high court nullified a law that was intended to reduce litigation, allowed awards for higher damages, and protected fees for lawyers. Florida’s legislature has taken measures to pass tort reforms, but these efforts have been nullified by the high court on a consistent basis.

The report also identified South Florida as a particularly bad area for civil lawsuits, mentioning that the area’s personal injury bar engaged in fraudulent and abusive practices.

Tort Reform

One of the first steps toward remedying the problem is by holding others accountable. The study mentions that in South Florida, some plaintiffs’ lawyers have recently been held accountable with criminal prosecutions and stiff court sanctions.

If reform is to occur, it must begin in the state legislature. But even that appears to be murky. The state’s legislature defeated bills this year that were intended to address the contingency fees found in workers compensation claims. They also squashed bills that address assignment-of-benefits and personal injury protection lawsuits.

Additionally, the Speaker of the Florida House, Richard Corcoran, recently began exploring a gubernatorial run. Plaintiff lawyers are expected to be some of his primary backers. Without the backing of a strong state legislature that protects citizens, tort reform will be impossible.