Well, it is time for the 2021 legislative session to begin again. That means that all of the backroom posturings for the last several months will move from the conference room and smoky rooms over at the governor’s office to outright lobbying combat. And that means that the age-old cage match between the trial attorneys and the business lobby will be on full display for the next 9 weeks, even when it comes down to COVID Liability Protection.
On the issue of lawsuit reform, the business lobby has had few legislative successes over the last several years. Other than a minor victory with Assignment of Benefits reform, their main success has come at the hands of the State Supreme Court when they revised Florida’s summary judgment standard to be in line with the federal standard.
Now with friendlier pro-business leadership in the Senate, the business lobby has been trying to push lawsuit reform measures related to covid liability protection, medical malpractice liability reform, accuracy in damages reform, and bad faith reform. There is a number of other minor measures that have been discussed in the halls of Tallahassee, but none of them appear to be on track for any kind of success. Business and consumer groups are also lining up to speak either for or against a proposed measure to change Florida’s current personal injury protection (PIP) caps that have been part of our automobile insurance industry for over a decade now.
However, the one piece of reform legislation that seems most capable of passage relates to covid liability protections for churches, small businesses, and non-profits. It will eliminate almost any liability for one of those categorical entities unless a doctor can specifically link a covid infection or death to provable negligence. It appears now that some are also wanting to add medical personnel to protect our font line healthcare entities. Still much to be debated, but people need to know that Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls is the sponsor of the bill in the House. That is a strong signal of where the House will be. Senator Jeff Brandes (pictured) has filed the version in the Senate, solidifying his “mover and shaker” status in that body.
Now, do Floridians support this legislation?
There does appear to be a strong level of public support for the measure. In early February, the American Tort Reform Association unleashed a poll that included bi-partisan responses to a number of subjects.
Strong majorities across both parties said that elected officials should respond to the pandemic, rather than trial lawyers. A whopping 59% of those polled said those harmed by the pandemic should get assistance from policies passed by elected officials while only 7% said those harmed should receive assistance via legal action or lawsuits. This would suggest that a legislator will have no problem making his case that covid protection is the right way to go.
Interestingly, more than 60% of respondents in both parties also said that they found trial lawyer advertising to be annoying and scam-like. Wonder if somehow reforming legal advertising will be the next big legislative debate.