Safety is an important issue for everyone, but it comes in many different forms and considerations. Financial safety is something that our elected officials are deeply concerned about as there seems to be a new initiative every year to protect our seniors and working families from financial scams, fraud, and price gouging. One form of price gouging that has been unconscionable over the last couple of decades has taken the form of frivolous lawsuits.
As a builder, runaway lawsuits have caused red tape and regulation to increase, insurance of all kinds to have massive price hikes, and restrained levels of services. What this means is higher costs and less service for all of our clients for reasons well beyond our control.
That is why I was very impressed with the Legislature’s effort to curtail our lawsuit-happy environment with some basic common-sense steps. One of the best was stopping this notion that an insurer would be required to pay the legal fees for the plaintiffs suing them, no matter the amount. That was almost a license to steal as many attorneys would push a plaintiff to sue and settle even for smaller amounts just so the attorney could make a move on their attorney’s fees.
Sometimes the fees would be dramatically higher than the settlement itself. There was just something wrong with this, and the one-way attorney fees provision was eliminated. That should bring a lot more financial stability to our economy right away.
The Legislature passed other provisions, such as increasing transparency in assessing damages so that a jury can make a realistic decision. Another great provision was eliminating a plaintiff’s right to seek damages if they are more than 50 percent responsible for the damage.
Our building, real estate, insurance, and banking industries have been teetering on the edge for a number of years now. These reforms will make them stronger, and I believe this will benefit consumers across the board who should begin to see breaks in their insurance premium over the next several years.
Of course, the state’s leaders can know they did the right thing because in the few days between when the tort package was passed and when the governor signed the bill into law, almost 100,000 lawsuits were filed to take advantage of the old statutes. That is unconscionable and should tell us all we need to know about this debate.