Should Florida Reform Tort Law To Limit Personal Injury Damages Won In Court?

Many advocates for tort law reform are arguing that personal injury damages that should be proportional to medical costs usually have little to do with those costs, especially because of insurance awards and reduced rates under Medicare or Medicaid. That’s why they want a new bill passed that would set strict limits to personal injury awards won in court.

Ryan Banfill, who works as a spokesman for the Florida Justice Association, said, “Florida’s courts are fully capable of dealing with these issues and do so successfully every day.”

House Bill 17 reads that “medical damages in certain tort actions [need] to be accurately calculated, based on actual amounts.”

The reason why damages aren’t always proportional to medical costs is simple: there are a variety of other difficult-to-calculate variables involved in making a judgment and judges are given a lot of wiggle room in the verdicts they reach for that reason. For example, those injured in an accident can sue a negligent party not only for medical costs, but also for lost wages or reducing earning potential, and more importantly for emotional and psychological pain. If medical treatment is ongoing, future costs are considered as well.

Advocates of HB17 also say that “Florida has the highest tort system costs among U.S. states as a percentage of state gross domestic product, at 3.6 percent.”

That might be why tort reformers also want to reduce and cap damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits.

But new laws would do more than just limit how much money plaintiffs could win from negligent parties — because of contingency policies, they could also limit the growth of law firms trying to build their reputations or client lists.

And because personal injury attorneys usually work on contingency — meaning they don’t get paid unless you win your case — the new legislation would drastically cut their earning potential. An unintended consequence (or maybe a completely intentional consequence) might push lawyers to be more creative in how they bill for services, including no longer working on contingency. 

If attorneys start requiring clients to pay for services up front, that means poor clients (or even some middle class clients) might be less likely to file a lawsuit at all, preferring to simply swallow the already life-changing costs of a bad accident rather than take the chance that they might have to pay those same costs in addition to a lawyer’s fees when they lose their case.

And that might be the point: the legislation could reduce the total number of lawsuits by making it harder for people of lower means to file them in the first place.