Joseph Taraska is a senior trial lawyer in complex litigation with Morgan and Morgan in Orlando, FL. In the following article, Joseph Taraska, Florida Attorney discusses tort reform in the state, and the threat it poses to citizens’ rights.
Recently, Florida’s legislature passed a tort reform bill which has been signed by the governor of Florida. Unfortunately, it creates an unfair legal atmosphere for the citizens of the state who seek legal redress for harm caused to them while promoting insurance and business interests. Several of its provisions are discussed in this article.
Joseph Taraska: HB837 Explained
Joseph Taraska, Florida Attorney says that HB 837 has been heralded by business groups as an innovative step to modernize Florida’s legal system. However, Mr. Taraska reports that the proposal goes too far in restricting Floridians’ rights. Curry Pajcic, president of the Florida Justice Association, calls the bill an “insurance company giveaway,” contending that it unfairly favors insurers and undermines citizens’ ability to hold others responsible for damages they cause.
Greater Percentage of Fault
Joseph Taraska, Florida Attorney also says that the “Greater Percentage of Fault” rule in the legislation has caused considerable concern about its potential effects on the legal system and accountability. If a party is found to be more than 50% at fault for their own harm, they would be barred from receiving any damages. This provision seeks to limit defendants’ financial responsibility even when they bear a percentage of the fault.
By allowing parties who are less than 50% at fault to avoid paying damages, this rule could create a situation in which many individuals are not held accountable for their own actions, explains Joseph Taraska. For instance, take a car accident scenario where Driver A is found to be 49% at fault and Driver B 51% responsible; under the proposed rule, Driver A would not have to pay anything even though they significantly contributed to the crash. This outcome is unjust, especially when both parties played an active role in causing harm.
Moreover, Joseph Taraska, Florida Attorney says that this rule may create incentives for parties to prioritize assigning fault in legal proceedings instead of addressing the actual harm caused by their actions. As a result, litigation could become more contentious and adversarial, with parties trying to prove their opponent is more than 50% at fault in order to avoid paying any damages.
A more balanced approach that takes into account all parties’ rights and interests is necessary in order to guarantee that the legal system remains impartial and accountable. Previously, Florida had such a fair system where each party was responsible for their percentage of fault. The new law does away with that balanced system of justice.
Another contentious issue is the repeal of a provision that requires insurers to pay policyholders’ attorney fees and costs if a court finds the insurer has unfairly denied or underpaid a claim. This provision, commonly referred to as the “one-way attorney fee” rule, has been an important tool in promoting fair treatment by insurance companies toward policyholders.
By making insurers bear the financial burden of attorney fees and costs in cases where they have acted unfairly, this provision serves as a powerful deterrent against unethical practices. Joseph Taraska, Florida Attorney notes that this rule incentivizes insurers to handle claims fairly and promptly, as they stand to lose additional financial damages if found to have acted improperly.
The repeal of this provision raises serious concerns. First, taking away this financial incentive could encourage insurance companies to deny or underpay legitimate claims more often, as they no longer face having to cover attorney fees and costs for policyholders when they are at fault. As a result, policyholders may find it harder to receive the compensation they are legally owed.
Furthermore, the repeal could disproportionately impact policyholders that have limited financial resources. Some may feel discouraged from even taking legal action against insurance companies in the first place, even if they have legitimate grounds for doing so.
A balanced approach that encourages insurance companies to act fairly while not overburdening policyholders with excessive legal expenses is necessary in order to maintain Florida’s protections from potential abuse by the insurance industry.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
The statute of limitations is the time period within which an injured party has the right to bring a cause of action to recover for his injuries and losses. Previously in Florida, injured parties were allowed four years within which to bring a claim for general negligence. That was a reasonable time for an injured person to fully understand the extent of their injuries and to determine all the parties at fault. They could then make an informed decision as to whether to bring an action. The reform bill significantly restricts that opportunity by limiting the time within which a claim can be brought to 2 years from the incident in most general negligence cases.
Although proponents of the Florida tort reform law claim that it will enhance the state’s legal climate and create a business-friendly atmosphere, the current law as passed undermine citizens’ rights to redress under the law.
Joseph Taraska notes that by restricting injured parties’ ability to recover damages and hold others accountable, this legislation creates an imbalanced legal system that favors insurance companies and businesses at the expense of everyday Floridians.
There are several additional restrictions in the bill passed other than those discussed in this article. For a comprehensive review of all changes, the reader is referred to the entire bill which can be accessed by a review of the bill’s language.