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Despite Heavy Debate, Controversial Tort Bill Advances in Senate

A bill aimed at overhauling how lawsuits against insurance companies are conducted in Florida has been advanced by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.

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TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — On Tuesday, The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee advanced SB 236 – a significant tort reform bill that’s designed to curb frivolous lawsuits against insurance companies and businesses.

Despite its advancement, the bill was heavily contested by senators on both sides of the aisle, along with previously injured Florida citizens, physicians and attorneys who argue that they would be negatively impacted by this bill.

Sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Flagler/St. Johns), SB 236 is designed to bring more balance back to the civil justice system by ensuring that both plaintiffs and defendants are treated equally. “This bill’s purpose is to reform this toxic lawsuit environment, reducing nonsense lawsuits while ensuring that our civil justice system treats plaintiffs and defendants fairly,” Sen. Travis Hutson explained.

Sen. Hutson, along with supporters of the bill, argued that existing state law creates an environment of abuse and an overabundance of litigation. He argued that SB 236 will ensure that juries are presented with the actual billed costs from an accident instead of relying on testimonies from third parties who may overestimate the expenses beyond what a plaintiff would realistically incur.

Two of the bill’s most ardent opponents – Sen. Bobby Powell (D-West Palm Beach) and Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orange County) – contended that the bill would have a very negative impact on those who should be compensated for injuries or wrongdoing. Several physicians and attorneys from across the state who testified agreed with Powell and Thompson, noting that if passed in its current form, SB 236 would keep injured parties from receiving the necessary care they deserve – since it limits juries to set damages at 140 percent of Medicaid rates.

Some of the key provisions of the bill include: requiring juries to hear only the costs billed to individuals; allowing damages to be set at 140 percent of Medicaid rates; eliminating one-way attorney fees; reducing filing time for negligence lawsuits from four years to two years; and introducing measures to make it harder to pursue legal action for “bad faith” against insurers.

Although the vote was split along party lines, several Republican senators explained that the bill still needs more work and that they would not be able to fully back it in its current form. Sen. Hutson explained that he will take all sides into consideration when further amending this bill. “Nothing is set in stone,” the senator said.

The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee and will also be heard by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee, where it will most likely be the subject of even more debate.