While the 2019 legislative session only came to a close a month ago, leaders and officials in the business community are not wasting anytime getting prepared for an all-important 2020 legislative cycle. During today's conference, Herrle outlined crucial issues that NFIB and the entire business community will look to tackle in 2020.
"In the 2019 legislative session, we saw some significant accomplishments for the business community. We saw the passage of the assignment of benefits legislation that was very important to address some problems in our insurance system," Herrle said in his opening statement. "But there remains much work to be done -- particularly in the tort reform area on behalf of the business community," he continued.
Herrle, of course, is talking about monumental legislation that passed during the 60-day session that will protect consumers from being taken advantage of by scheming contractors across the Sunshine State.
The "AOB" bill, led by Rep. Bob Rommel and Sen. Doug Broxson, will curb skyrocketing insurance costs, protect consumers and restore accountability in the insurance claims process, Ultimately, the bill will restrict attorney fees in such cases and allow insurers to sell policies that would not be subject to assignment of benefits.
During the conference, Herrle laid out an agenda for the 2020 legislative session, identifying four pieces of legislation that would help reduce the burden Floridians bare when it comes to frivolous lawsuits brought on by trial lawyers.
The four areas identified by Herrle and the NFIB were:
- Litigation Financing (1:16 in the video)
- Accuracy and Medical Damages (2:18 in the video)
- Worker's Compensation (3:10 in the video)
- Medical Malpractice (4:38 in the video)
Herrle also released a study conducted by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) which showed excessive tort costs by city, and the effect it has on taxpayers in the state. Of the cities with the highest direct costs, Miami came in first, followed by Tallahassee.
Data from 2018 also identified $7.6 billion in annual direct costs from litigation across the state, with $11.8 billion dollars of GDP lost in Florida over the same time period. Furthermore, these lawsuits contributed to 126,139 jobs being lost, with an additional $614 million in potential state tax revenue lost.
But Herrle said that these numbers were not all fraudulent lawsuits, but made it clear that a portion of these costs are.
"I am not standing before you claiming that there are $7.6 billion dollars in frivolous and bogus lawsuits... much of it, very legitimate," Herrle said. "These are roll-ups of all the costs of litigation in the state. Much of it very legitimate and much of it we respect in our justice system."
Michelle Smith, a small business owner and member of NFIB, shared her personal account of being taken advantage of by these types of litigation.
"We are not like large corporations where we have departments that can handle various types of litigation. Business owners like myself, we do this all ourselves," Williams told reporters. "This type of litigation absolutely steals the time away that we have, which is our most valuable asset."
Smith's experience with this type of litigation is not foreign to other business owners in the state of Florida. Small businesses are targeted are a regular basis in the state, which hinders small enterprises from growing, expanding, and even functioning. The lawsuit, more often than not, results in a loss of time, thus leading to a loss of production which cripples small businesses financially..
Because of these high number of proceedings, Florida ranks 2nd in the annual "Judicial Hellholes" list. The ranking is a culmination of numerous problems facing the state, including lack of legislative reforms, an ongoing assignment of benefits crisis, and abuse from lawyers looking to take advantage of the system.
But not all hope is lost for small businesses looking to make it without bad actors taking advantage of them. With recent legislation passed, along with a complete makeover in the Florida Supreme Court, Florida's litigation woes may be in the rear-view sooner rather than later. Because lawmakers are finally fighting for this targeted group, Williams and others at NFIB believe now is the best time to own a small business in the state.
"I absolutely would," Williams told RoundTable Politics when asked if she would start a business today.
"I say that because there are organizations like NFIB that are advocates for small businesses today," she continued. "The disadvantage that I had when I started fifteen years ago was that I was not an NFIB member.