The report shows that runaway tort cases in Tallahassee alone impose just under $200 million in direct costs annually and take $312.4 million away from our gross product each year. It’s a problem that affects Tallahassee citizens on a more personal level as well, as excessive tort cases mean $225.3 million lost in personal income every year and cost 3,311 jobs. When it’s all said and done, each citizen of Tallahassee suffers what the report dubs a “tort tax” of $819.41 each year that the problem goes unaddressed.
This issue isn’t just restricted to our city either. The report highlights costs in the rest of the state as well, $7.6 billion in annual direct costs and $11.8 billion drained from gross product. In total, Florida loses 126,139 jobs to excessive tort lawsuits every year. Why is it that we allow trial attorneys to create business for themselves and waste court resources at the expense of our small businesses and taxpayers?
Unfortunately, this is not a new trend. For decades, attorneys throughout Florida have been hard at work concocting misguided and overreaching legal theories and orchestrating large-scale offenses against those they deem to have caused some great societal harm.
In another report released earlier this year, the American Tort Reform Association brought attention to the lengths to which trial attorneys go to earn inflated contracts with states and municipalities on a “contingency fee” basis, meaning they’re entitled to a specific – and often grossly over-inflated – percentage of any winnings or settlement in the case. A number of Florida-based firms are called out in the report for taking part in the infamous tobacco litigation in the 1990s, abusing personal-injury claims, taking advantage of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, going after drug producers for the opioid crisis, and more.
It’s not uncommon in advertisements and other messaging for these attorneys to claim they are pursuing some greater good with these lawsuits. Unfortunately for citizens in Tallahassee, across Florida, and other communities around the country, that “greater good” is usually the attorneys’ bank accounts. In the process of negotiating their exorbitant contingency fees, they often walk away from these cases with millions, while clients and class members could consider themselves fortunate to see even pennies for their time invested in the case.
It is now up to us to speak up and speak out to our leaders and legislators. We need to let them know that we will no longer tolerate trial attorneys manufacturing fear in our communities for the sake of a large payday for themselves. It is time to enact common-sense tort reforms that prevent these abuses of our civil justice system and allow Florida’s businesses, courts, and citizens to go about their business without the threat of constant and excessive lawsuits hanging over their heads. Without it, our local economies will continue to lag for no reason other than to line the pockets of lawyers.
Maurice Langston is the Chairman of the Florida Council for Safe Communities.