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I'm not a lawyer but I play one on TV. And Ron DeSantis is going to ruin everything!

No, thank you! I'm not interested in giving up my seat on the gravy train! I've worked hard to sleep in the executive seats, and well, can't you go pick on someone else?


My mentor, Harry Spritzler below. Taught me everything I know about the law.


* BTW, Walter Matthau won the Academy Award in 1967 for his depiction of Attorney William Gringrich (aka Whiplash Willie).


Ron DeSantis, Florida GOP Breathing New Life Into Tort Reform

Florida governor, other Republican leaders attempt to rein in perceived abuses of the state’s legal system


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and allies are taking aim at what they see as frivolous cases and excessive damage awards.


By Arian Campo-Flores, WSJ

March 6, 2023 9:00 am ET


MIAMI—Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republican leaders in the state are pushing legislation to rein in what they say is excessive litigation that is hurting the state’s economy and imperiling its allure to businesses considering relocating here.


At a time when tort-reform efforts around the U.S. have generally slowed from past decades, Florida GOP lawmakers are considering a bill in the legislative session starting this week aimed at reducing what proponents consider frivolous cases, excessive damage awards and high attorney fees.


“This will be probably the most significant legal reform that’s ever been done in the modern history of the state of Florida,” said Mr. DeSantis, a likely 2024 presidential contender, at an event last month in Jacksonville to preview the proposal. “It’s going to make Florida a more attractive place to do business.”


Plaintiffs’ lawyers and Democrats opposed to the measure criticize it as an effort to protect business and insurance profit by crimping people’s ability to hold wrongdoers responsible for harms they commit. Business groups and Republicans who back it argue that Florida’s litigious environment generates significant added costs that hit consumers’ pocketbooks by driving up insurance premiums and other prices.


Studies in recent years by the American Tort Reform Foundation, which seeks to limit what it considers abuses of the civil-justice system, ranked Florida as one of the worst “judicial hellholes” in the U.S. for allegedly abusive litigation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, which has a similar mission, has rated Florida’s liability system one of the least fair in the country and found the state is a leader in “nuclear verdicts” of over $10 million.


That has hampered Florida’s ability to compete for business against states such as Texas and North Carolina, said Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which backs the proposed legislation. “Florida has a lot of momentum going for it,” he said. “But we have this major headwind pushing back against us.”



Curry Pajcic, president of the Florida Justice Association, a trial-lawyers group opposed to the measure, challenged the claim that the state is a “judicial hellhole.” He said that argument is used to justify curtailing people’s rights to use the court system to pursue accountability.


The bill would limit the ability to hold insurance companies responsible for wrongful practices, Mr. Pajcic said. Any problems with abusive litigation, he added, could be handled with more surgical precision.


“This is a blunt ax,” Mr. Pajcic said. “It is an extreme bill and goes far beyond what is fair or reasonable.”


The tort-reform movement in the U.S. started in the 1980s and has included efforts over the years to target issues such as medical-malpractice cases, said Mark Geistfeld, a professor at New York University School of Law who specializes in torts. But it is currently in a quieter period, with sporadic actions in states. In recent years, states such as Montana and West Virginia have passed laws backed by tort-reform advocates.


Florida’s proposal builds on a bill passed in a special legislative session in December, and later signed by Mr. DeSantis, that sought to address the state’s property-insurance crisis. Among its provisions was the elimination of so-called one-way attorney fees, which insurers said encouraged plaintiffs’ lawyers to sue to obtain large fee awards.


The current bill would make several changes to the civil justice system. One provision would alter the way medical damages are calculated when presented to juries in personal-injury or wrongful-death cases. Another would modify the framework for “bad-faith” claims, such as allegations that insurers improperly denied coverage under a policy. The provision would, among other things, clarify that negligence alone isn’t enough to demonstrate bad faith.


“We want a fair, balanced system that isn’t being abused by attorneys and isn’t leading to unrealistic damages awards,” said Republican Rep. Tommy Gregory, a sponsor of the bill.


Rob Sandlin, chief executive of Florida Rock & Tank Lines Inc., a trucking company in Jacksonville, said the company’s auto liability insurance has increased 73% since 2018, despite reducing the amount of coverage by 60% over that time. Driving that imbalance is unnecessary litigation, he said.


Accidents are inevitable, and “we want to pay what’s right,” Mr. Sandlin said. “But on the flip side, we don’t want to pay for accidents we don’t cause.”


SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

If changes are made to Florida’s tort law bill, what would be the implications? Join the conversation below.


During a legislative committee hearing on the bill last month, Democratic Rep. Hillary Cassel said businesses come to Florida with the expectation that the legal system affords accountability. “This bill does the exact opposite,” she said. “It benefits insurance company executives. And everyday Floridians who are injured…are going to be hurt.”


At the hearing, Peter D’Orazio addressed lawmakers alongside his wife, who was left with impaired speech and limited mobility after suffering a catastrophic stroke and allegedly being misdiagnosed at a hospital. He said the legal system provided them recourse to hold medical staff responsible.


Without that, Mr. D’Orazio said, “I don’t know where we’d be today—probably homeless, standing on the corner out here begging for money.”


Write to Arian Campo-Flores at arian.campo-flores@dowjones.com

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