Big Businesses Trying to Reduce Awards in Florida Personal Injury Lawsuits?

 Slip and falls are common lawsuits filed against grocery stores and other businesses.  Damages in these types of suits can actually be very high, because many are severely hurt as a result.  Now some big businesses are lobbying state lawmakers and Governor Rick Scott to cut awards in these types of lawsuits.  Businesses often facing lawsuits would thus save large amounts of money if the change is approved.

The Argument

Publix Super Markets and Walt Disney World are leading the way to convince lawmakers to “rewrite the way medical damages are determined if a business is found responsible for an accident, whether a customer slips in the aisle of a grocery store or a tourist is hurt aboard a theme-park ride.”  They are the largest donors of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, which is lobbying Tallahassee for the lower damages limits.

“Business lobbyists argue that the current system has been manipulated by shrewd trial lawyers and by complicit doctors who exaggerate the cost of medical services and perform more than is necessary on accident victims – which then encourages juries to award much larger amounts in damages.”

The Florida Justice Reform Institute submitted language that was introduced in the 2013 legislative session, but it did not pass due to strong “opposition from trial lawyers, doctors and some hospitals.”  But the business lobby has not given up and has an eye on the 2014 legislative session.

The current system has plaintiffs submit all medical bills with the initial costs the doctors or other providers charged.  This is radically different from “the actual amounts [the doctors] are paid, [which] are usually less, with lower rates either mandated by government-run programs such as Medicare or Medicaid or negotiated by large health-insurance companies.”

The Proposal

The Florida Justice Reform Institute proposes that plaintiffs only be allowed to submit receipts of actual payment amounts.  If the plaintiff hasn’t paid their medical bills, then damage amounts should be determined by a standard of “customarily accepted” amounts.  Additionally, the Institute “want[s] to prohibit accident victims from being awarded any payments for medical treatments deemed unnecessary.”

Fairness for Injury Victims

Conversely, those who work with injury victims in Florida appreciate the need to protect basic rights for injury victims under attack from large business interests.  As plaintiffs’ lawyers have long argued, the “customarily accepted” standard “would be akin to imposing a rate cap on medical services.  [The] amount would also inevitably be very low, dragged down by the reduced rates paid by large insurers, who can get discounts because of the volume of patients they cover.”  This could lead doctors and medical-service providers to “refuse to treat an uninsured accident victim if the doctor could expect to be paid only at the same rate as a patient covered by a large insurer — and even then, only if that patient wins a lawsuit.”

It is a rare day when injury lawyers and medical professionals are on the same side in a fight related to the civil justice system.  Their unity on this is a testament to the misguided nature of the move, and the need to beat back the legislative overreach.

How this proposed legislation plays out is yet to be seen.  But you can rest assured that our personal injury attorneys always fight for our clients’ full rights.  If you are injured, please speak with our attorneys to protect your rights.

The attorneys at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A. will provide a free, no obligation consultation at our offices in Dade, Broward or Monroe County. If you are unable to travel, we can see you at your home,  hospital, or other location which is convenient for you.