Florida moving in right direction to end decades
of lawsuit abuse by billboard trial lawyers
Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
Wilson and Harold Kim
November 29, 2019
Let’s rip the Band-Aid off first: The newly released
2019 Lawsuit Climate Survey: Ranking the States, by the U.S. Chamber
Institute for Legal Reform, ranks the Florida 46 out of 50 — remaining
unchanged from the last survey in 2017. Despite its low ranking, recent
reforms and changes show sunnier days are ahead for Florida’s lawsuit
Florida is finally moving in the right
direction. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ three recent appointments to
the Florida Supreme Court have transformed the high court,
and an empowered state legislature is more willing to take
on billboard trial lawyers.
While these improvements aren’t reflected in this year’s
national ranking due to survey timing, the groundwork laid
this year will no doubt yield improvements over the next few
What Florida’s poor ranking does reflect is decades of
lawsuit abuse by billboard trial lawyers. Previously,
Florida’s legislature was reluctant to pass reforms because
of an activist state Supreme Court that routinely overturned
legislative reforms. Plaintiffs’ lawyers used that to their
advantage to get massive paydays through excessive
litigation, at the expense of Florida families, small
businesses and job creators.
Change is already happening. In May, the Supreme Court
rightly adopted a rule called the Daubert standard to keep
junk science out of the courtroom. The rule was already in
place in 40 other states and the federal courts, giving a
huge win to free enterprise that had faced an onslaught of
litigation based on faulty science.
The Legislature also showed it’s ready to turn things
around, and the governor has been ready with the pen to sign
legal reforms into law. For the past six years, homeowners
have been dealing with increasing property insurance rates
partly due to trial lawyers filing get-rich-quick lawsuits.
This year, the Legislature finally passed a bipartisan
consumer protection measure to end the abusive assignment of
benefits (AOB) practice, which DeSantis signed into law.
Stopping the fraud-ridden AOB auto glass practice is next in
line for reform.
Florida is finally moving in the right direction in
improving the state’s legal climate and decades of lawsuit abuse.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ three recent appointments to the Florida Supreme
Court have transformed the high court, and an empowered state
legislature is more willing to take on billboard trial lawyers.
DeSantis with former federal prosecutor and Miami appeals court
judge Robert Luck, right, who was appointed to the Florida Supreme
Court earlier this year.
The Legislature also passed much-needed reforms to
the “dangerous instrumentality doctrine,” a Florida-only, court-created
doctrine that holds vehicle owners liable if they loan their vehicle to
someone else who gets into an accident. Finally, lawmakers rejected a
proposed biometric privacy law that would have threatened companies with
expensive no-injury class actions. Similar to a law passed in Illinois,
Florida’s business community will watch closely because trial lawyers
are sure to try again next session.
Lawmakers should keep the momentum going next. The
state’s lawsuit climate costs Floridians, too. A study released last
fall by ILR found that every Florida household’s share of its tort
system was $4,442 in 2016. That’s $1,100 a year more than the national
Ranking the States surveyed more than 1,300 general counsels, senior
attorneys, and other executives at major U.S. companies. Thirteen
percent of those surveyed said Miami-Dade County, a trial lawyer haven,
has the worst litigation environment in the entire country. Even more
concerning is that 89 percent of executives surveyed said a state’s
lawsuit climate is becoming a more significant factor when deciding
where to locate or grow additional jobs.
There is optimism for turning around Florida’s broken lawsuit system,
but more work must be done. Keeping the momentum going is essential to
tackle issues like municipality litigation and “truth in damages.”
As Florida competes to be a top 10 global economy by 2030, improving its
legal climate is essential. The Florida Chamber of Commerce is leading
the charge to unite Florida’s business community, and together with the
Institute for Legal Reform, will continue efforts to reduce
out-of-control litigation while protecting consumers and job creators