Florida lawmakers are seeking to place limits on business lawsuits related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. However, leaders in the legislature differ in how they view other issues affecting businesses that may be addressed in this upcoming legislative session, including workers’ compensation insurance claims.
The Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, indicated that they supported legislation that would protect businesses from lawsuits resulting from COVID-19. Specifically, these lawsuits are connected to someone working for a business or visiting a business who contracts the virus while on the premises.
The legislature intends to discuss COVID-19 lawsuit limitations when they reconvene for the 2021 legislative session in March 2021. Proposals made to limit lawsuits are traditionally referred to as tort reform. In the past, tort reform subjects have brought an onslaught of lobbying battles in the legislature.
While the two leaders of the legislative branches share views on how to handle COVID-19 lawsuits, they do not see eye-to-eye when it comes to workers’ compensation insurance claims. Various business groups have been working hard to get the legislature to address this system since the Florida Supreme Court ruling made in 2016, which ruled that strict caps on plaintiff’s attorney fees issue in workers’ compensation cases were unconstitutional.
Business groups argue that by eliminating these caps on attorney’s fees would cause workers’ compensation rates to skyrocket. Since the ruling came out in 2016, business lobbyists have been pushing lawmakers to create legislation to reinstate plaintiff’s attorney fees. The House did attempt to introduce legislation to do just that in 2017 and 2018. However, the Senate did not support these efforts either time. It is unclear whether these efforts will receive similar treatment in the 2021 legislative session.
The problem with the proposed legislation is that every situation is different. While most people have no objection to barring frivolous lawsuits, a blanket restriction on lawsuits prevent accountability when people or companies are in the wrong. A blanket restriction allows a greater degree of recklessness and lack of personal responsibility. Allowing businesses to be careless without accountability reduces the overall safety of the public. That is not what Floridians should want during a global pandemic.