Tuesday, May 30 2023
Just as the plaintiffs’ law firm of Morgan & Morgan warned, the number of Florida lawsuits filed across the state has shattered previous records, topping 280,122 in April, the Florida Bar reported.
That’s more than double the previous record set in May 2021 and is largely due to anticipation of the Legislature’s passage of a far-reaching tort reform bill that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law March 24, the Bar noted.
As it became clear that House Bill 837 was about to pass in March, limiting one-way attorney fees and multipliers in almost all insurance and injury litigation, and slashing damages if the plaintiff is found to be 50% at fault, Morgan & Morgan and other claimants’ firms told insurance defense attorneys that they were getting ready to file tens of thousands of lawsuits in the days before the law took effect upon the governor’s signature.
The firms were not exaggerating. And insurers and county clerks of court are now dealing with the impact.
“Our primary concern is having adequate resources to process the high volume of cases and appropriately serve all parties and the judiciary,” Martin County Clerk of Courts Carolyn Timman told the Bar.
Sarasota County Clerk Karen Rushing said the flood of new cases began around March 17, Rushing told the Bar’s news site.
The total number of documents in the case filings was almost 3.6 million in March, a third more than the previous month. About 44% of the new cases were filed in Miami-Dade County and in Hillsborough County, home to Tampa.
Some clerks have said they already are facing budget shortfalls, spiraling costs and understaffed offices – even before the tort wave hit, the Bar noted.
The Florida Department of Financial Services, which must be included on notices of intent to litigate against insurers, also reported a spike in planned litigation. The agency in March recorded 8,637 notices of intent to initiate litigation, up from 7,634 in February. That’s double the number of notices filed in March 2022, the DFS web page shows.In previous eras, many of the insurance claims behind the lawsuits would have been dropped or settled without litigation, Florida Justice Association Secretary Todd Michaels told the Tallahassee Democrat news site. But with the law taking effect immediately in late March, firms felt compelled to file the suits to avoid the law’s fee limitations and protect their clients, Michaels said.
“At this moment we are doing what all lawyers should be doing – protecting the interests of our clients,” John Morgan, head of the Orlando-based plaintiffs firm, said in a statement in March.
The tort-reform law clamped the attorney fee and other restrictions on suits filed after March 24. It does not apply retroactively in most cases, although some insurer lawyers have indicated they may challenge that in some circumstances.