Tort reform bill seeks to balance Florida's 'judicial hellhole' while opponents call it gift to insurers

'If insurers don't do right by their insureds, we're coming for them too,' House Speaker Paul Renner says
Posted at 7:18 PM, Feb 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-24 19:18:54-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's tort reform package cleared its first hurdle at the capitol Friday. The bill — championed by the governor — aims to cut incentives to sue and bring fairness to what he calls the state's "judicial hellhole." Opponents believe it's a gift to insurers.

Lawmakers vetted the policy in an hours-long House Civil Justice Subcommittee. It was there that Floridians who fought insurers after suffering through medical tragedies gave testimony against the proposed changes.

Gary Miracle, an amputee who lost all four limbs to a blood infection in 2019, worried the bill would cut court access for those seeking to sue insurance companies and reduce incentives for the companies to offer fair claims.

"If I was your son, if I was your brother— there is no possible way you'd be OK with this," the Brevard County resident said. "Remember these arms, remember these legs when you go to sign this bill and approve it."

Even so, the committee advanced HB 837 with one Republican, Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Valrico, joining Democrats in opposition.

The policy does a lot. Some of its main provisions include:

  • Eliminating one-way attorney fees and drastically limiting multipliers
  • Requiring juries to have more clarity on the actual cost of medical care
  • Modifies Florida's "bad faith" law to say negligence alone isn't enough to sue 

"Everything from gas to groceries to auto and home insurance is more expensive because a few bad actors are taking advantage of Florida's current tort laws," House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said. "Litigation mills create an excessive tort tax which inflates costs on everything."

Renner and fellow Republicans believe their plan brings balance to Florida's civil courts. If approved, they believe the bill will curb frivolous litigation and bring in more insurer competition to ease high premiums for everyone. Renner said lawmakers would be watching to ensure companies deliver.

"If insurers don't do right by their insureds, we're coming for them too," Renner said. "We want to make sure the gamesmanship on both sides is taken out of the system."

Democrats weren't buying it.

"Very simply and plainly — there are no protections here for Floridians," Rep. Ashley Viola Gantt, D-Miami, said. "The protections and the benefits of this bill all go to big businesses."

In a news conference, they highlighted concerns, saying stripping away one-way attorney fees will make lawsuits too expensive for many to file and that morphing the "bad faith" law offers insurers too much protection.

"When you attack those of us who hold bad actors accountable, that is the last line of defense for democracy," Rep. Hillary Cassel, D-Hollywood, said.

Republicans have said they're keeping an open ear to critics and concerns. Renner told reporters that lawmakers could return next year to course correct if "we've gone too far in a particular direction."

With a supermajority, however, the GOP holds almost all the cards. They'll decide the bill's future and whether it gets to the governor's desk.

The regular lawmaking session begins on March 7.