YOUR OPIION: Jim Handley Says Legislation, Not Litigation, Will Help Florida Prosper

By  //  July 5, 2019

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Florida was recently named one of the nation’s five worst 'Judicial Hellholes'

With a well-established reputation as a haven for trial attorneys looking for their next big payday, Florida was recently named one of the nation’s five worst “Judicial Hellholes” by the American Tort Reform Foundation for a remarkable fifth consecutive year, and improvements in the near future do not seem likely.

This disturbing trend began in the 1990s when a large group of well-funded trial attorneys (many of them based in Florida) saw an opportunity in their fight against the tobacco industry.

By making questionable arguments founded on convoluted legal theory, they were able to enforce their own brand of regulation, one that filled their pockets with large court winnings and bypassed the legislative process altogether.

We still see this today. Whether it be cases against pharmaceutical manufacturers, insurance companies that follow our designated system of assigning benefits to a contractor, doctors simply trying to establish a practice and care for their patients, or even simple personal injury claims, trial attorneys continue to build on their successes over the past two decades.

After all, why would they give up on a formula they know is working?

This runaway litigation has almost become an industry in itself. Everywhere you go, you’re sure to see lawsuit ads on billboards, the side of a city bus, or on your TV screen. Using such aggressive tactics, they can assemble increasingly larger classes to leverage their newest target into ever-skyrocketing settlements.

It is a plan of action that not only wastes court resources, it undermines the very responsibility of our civil justice system. Rather than acting as an arbiter weighing two valid arguments under existing law, our courts are actively being leveraged into creating entirely new regulations.

And of course, those same attorneys will use them again as they cycle through new client classes in pursuit of another huge settlement or court award.

This sort of “sue first, ask questions later” mentality has unfortunately spread beyond the trial bar in recent years as well. Whether the infamous “hot coffee” litigation or any other number of ridiculous cases, it is a problem that harms us all, especially the reputability of our courts.

No longer should individuals be permitted to clog the courts with disputes over how much ice was in their iced coffee, whether an NFL player dropped a pass, or who owns the rights to a banana suit.

The more of these cases we allow, the less desirable Florida becomes as a home for the small business owners that help our economy thrive.

The best way for us to do this is to take the high road and pursue the correct method of enacting change: communicating with our legislators and making it clear to them that regulation should be written in the statehouse rather than the courthouse.

Jim Handley is a retired executive and consumer advocate residing in Melbourne, Florida.

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