“Florida!!!” – A Judicial Hellhole®

“Florida!!!” – A Judicial Hellhole®

Introduction – What is a Judicial Hellhole® Anyway?

Each year since 2002, the American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF) publishes a report documenting various abuses within the civil justice system. Its focus is on jurisdictions where equality in the courts has been out of balance.[i]

Historically, a jurisdiction has been considered a Judicial Hellhole® when laws are applied in an unfair and unbalanced manner, which generally disfavors the defendant.[ii] While the ATRF remains focused on the courts, it has expanded its focus to include the growing influence of the legislative and executive branches on the courts as well.[iii]

 

“Take Me to Florida!!!”[iv]

Florida has a storied history as a Judicial Hellhole®, plagued by excessive litigation, fraudulent claims, and outrageous awards. This landed Florida near the top of the Judicial Hellhole® heap, in No. 2 spot in 2018-2019.[v]

In 2019, with the election of a conservative governor who appointed conservative justices, Florida began making improvements to the legal landscape.[vi] A more conservative court deferred to legislative efforts to curb lawsuit abuse.  This resulted in the ATRF removing Florida from the Judicial Hellholes® list in 2020.[vii] However, the Florida Legislature remained on the ATRF watchlist, as there was still a need for improvements to the civil justice system, which was due to a lack of transparency in terms of economic damage awards and attorney advertising.[viii]

 

“How Did it End?”[ix] – 2023 Florida Legislative Session

In 2023, the Florida Legislature passed sweeping tort reform which has the potential to rebalance the state’s civil justice system. The most significant of the bills was Florida House Bill (HB) 837, which, among other changes, provides greater transparency in determining economic damages.[x]

Prior to the passage of HB 837, plaintiffs were permitted to introduce evidence of the initially invoiced prices for medical care and treatment. This amount was often three or more times the amount the plaintiff would ultimately pay. Additionally, under the prior law, plaintiffs’ attorneys could align with physician groups and sign “letters of protection,” which allowed them to hide the actual cost of services by billing a higher rate and deferring payment until after resolution of the claim. With the passage of HB 837, plaintiffs are required to disclose the health insurance they had at the time of treatment, and the bill permits the defendant to introduce evidence of the amount the health insurance carrier would have paid under their contract with the provider.[xi]

In addition to HB 837, the Florida Legislature passed HB 1205, which prohibited specified deceptive advertising practices related to legal services .[xii] The ATRF reported that in 2022, Florida lawyers spent an estimated $271.8 million on legal advertising.[xiii] This means Florida accounted for nearly 12% of all legal service advertising spending in the United States in 2023.[xiv] Intended to decrease deceptive attorney advertising, Florida’s new law prohibits the practice of presenting a legal services advertisement as a “medical alert” or as an offering of advice from a government agency.[xv] Additionally, a violation of the new law is considered a violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.[xvi]

 

Takeaways – “The Future’s Bright…Dazzling”[xvii]

With the sweeping tort reforms passed by the Florida Legislature in 2023, the ATRF has removed Florida from the Judicial Hellholes® list. While these proactive changes aim to rebalance the civil justice system, real change takes time. Only time will tell whether the 2023 reforms will create a more fair and balanced civil justice system in “Florida!!!”[xviii]

 

 

 

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Sources


[i] Judicial Hellholes, ATRA, Judicialhellholes.org.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] “Florida!!!”, Taylor Swift, 2024.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Id.

[ix] “How Did It End?”, Taylor Swift, 2024.

[x] Fla. HB 837 (2023).

[xi] Id.

[xii] Fla. HB 1205 (2023).

[xiii] New Florida Bill to Regulate Misleading Legal Services Ads on Pharmaceutical Drugs and Medical Devices, ATRA (Apr. 12, 2023), https://www.atra.org/2023/04/12/new-florida-bill-to-regulate-misleading-legal-services-ads-on-pharmaceutical-drugs-and-medical-devices/.

[xiv] ATRA, ATRA, atra.org.

[xv] Fla. HB 1205 (2023).

[xvi] Id.

[xvii] “Clara Bow”, Taylor Swift, 2024.

[xviii] “Florida!!!”, Taylor Swift, 2024.