With the Florida Senate passing a take-no-prisoners tort-reform bill on Thursday, plaintiffs lawyers moved to file tens of thousands of lawsuits before the new restrictions kicked in yesterday.
The bill, which extends limits on one-way attorney fees, assignments of benefits, and other provisions to most types of insurance claims, will take effect as soon as the ink is dry on the governor’s signature. And that won’t be a minute too soon, insurance industry advocates said Thursday.
An email from Cole, Scott & Kissane, one of Florida’s largest insurance defense law firms, was sent to the firm’s lawyers and has been forwarded around the state. It relates a phone conversation with Matt Morgan, partner with Morgan & Morgan, one of the country’s largest plaintiffs’ firms. Morgan said that the Orlando-based firm will have filed 25,000 insurance-claim cases by this week.
“The defendants won’t initially be served but the carriers will be sent a letter demanding the policy limits,” reads the email from Richard Cole, managing partner with Cole, Scott & Kissane.
Insurance carriers will have five days to respond. If the policy limits are not tendered, full litigation will follow, Morgan said.
“The call was cordial but direct,” Cole noted in the email. “Feel free to let your client carriers know of Morgan and Morgan’s position and plans.”
John Morgan, head of the firm, said Thursday in a statement to Insurance Journal: “At this moment we are doing what all lawyers should be doing—protecting the interests of our clients.”
He added: “There is no insurance crisis in Florida. Rates won’t go down. They never have and never will. All tort reform this year should be titled ‘F*** the People.'”
Cole, reached by phone Thursday, said other plaintiffs’ firms would likely take similar actions and the state could see as many as 100,000 suits filed by today.
Insurance groups agreed, noting that the flood of litigation gives urgency to the governor to sign House Bill 837 as soon as possible.
“I expect to see a tidal wave of suits filed by today [Thursday], frankly,” said Michael Carlson, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, which includes some of the largest property insurers in the state. “The trial bar knows that the governor could sign the bill by today, so they’re trying to get these in before then.”
He noted that an excessive number of lawsuits is exactly what HB 837 is designed to prevent going forward. Until the law has an impact, though, insurance carriers and county clerks of court will likely be swamped with work, Carlson and Cole predicted.
“It will put a lot of stress on the whole system,” Cole said.
“Giving five days to respond, and no settlement for less than the policy limits—that’s just ridiculous,” Carlson added.
Others in the industry joined in the criticism of the claimants’ lawyers’ legal efforts.
“This is the exact reason the state of Florida needs this tort reform bill. These opportunistic lawyers are acting in bad faith by sprinting to file 25,000 cases ahead of the law’s passage,” Neil Alldredge, president and CEO of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, said in an email. “This last-ditch stunt is yet another example of how legal system abuse has added to the challenges of providing insurance coverage in the state and increased costs for consumers.”
HB 837 passed the full House last week and passed the Senate yesterday with at 23-15 vote. It has survived largely intact since it was introduced by Sen. Tommy Gregory, R-Lakewood Branch.
Democratic senators on Wednesday attempted a last-minute rewrite to soften the impact on policyholders and their attorneys. That amendment failed to pass on the Senate floor.
Read the related Insurance Journal article, “Fla. Tort Bill Brings it: Limits Damages, Ends Fee Multipliers, Discloses LOPs – and More,” for an explanation of the bill provisions.
(A version of this article was published on Insurance Journal, a sister publication, early on Thursday. Reporter Will Rabb is the Southeast Editor of Insurance Journal.)