In survey results released this week, corporate America ranked Florida as having the 42nd worst legal environment in the country.
The survey, conducted annually by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, underscores the urgent need for the Florida Legislature to pass tort reform legislation during its session that is taking place this week, said the American Insurance Association (AIA).
“The poll’s results of corporate counsel should serve as a wake-up call to Florida legislators,” said Cecil Pearce, AIA vice president, southeast region. “Florida’s ranking has fallen eight spots in three years, a reflection of the business community’s increasing frustration with the state’s growing lawsuit lottery mentality. That’s why tort reform, especially in the areas of asbestos liability and third-party bad faith, are among AIA’s top priorities for the 2005 legislative session.”
On the asbestos front, Florida is becoming a magnet state for asbestos claims of dubious validity.
HB 1019 preserves the right of the truly sick victims of asbestos-related diseases to be fully compensated, while preserving the right for those who are not now sick but may become sick from asbestos exposure to have their day in court. The bill also requires that claimants be Florida residents or be able to show that they were exposed to asbestos and/or silica in Florida.
Another liability issue reaching crisis proportions in Florida is the growing number and cost of third party bad faith lawsuits due to a failure to reach settlement, which can result in judgments far in excess of insurance policy limits.
Florida law and court interpretations reportedly encourage the filing of such lawsuits against insurers by third parties who are not parties to the insurance contract. Although bad faith laws are important to protect policyholders from potential bad acts of insurers, court interpretations of Florida’s bad faith law have created an imbalance in favor of plaintiff’s attorneys. As a result, insurers are forced to settle claims or risk a bad faith lawsuit. AIA supports legislation that will minimize the use of the bad faith statute to coerce settlements by insurers.
“Florida’s litigation environment can be fixed, and today’s kick-off of the 2005 Florida legislative session presents a prime opportunity for policymakers to bring the civil justice system back into balance. AIA is pleased that Gov. Jeb Bush has made tort reform one of the top priorities of his final two years in office,” said Pearce. “We will be working with our civil justice coalition partners to bring stability and fairness back to the legal environment in Florida.”
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