Thursday, February 22, 2024

ANNALS OF DeSANTISTAN; Prospects dim for measure to ease litigation hurdles against state, local governments (Florida Phoenix)

Does slashing citizens rights to remedies in our courts is unAmerican, unseemly, and contradicts our Dull Republican authoritarians unfriendly attacks on our Seventh Amendment right right to jury trial? From Florida Phoenix: 

Prospects dim for measure to ease litigation hurdles against state, local governments

‘It doesn’t look like there’s a path in the House this year’

BY:  - FEBRUARY 21, 2024 1:10 PM

 Photo credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The House sponsor of legislation to make it easier to sue the state and its political subdivisions for negligence conceded her bill is unlikely to pass this year after the Judiciary Committee failed to schedule it for a hearing Wednesday.

With the Legislature scheduled to close its regular session on March 8 and the committee planning no additional hearings this year, Sarasota Republican Fiona McFarland was forced to concede: “It doesn’t look like there’s a path in the House this year to get sovereign immunity, at least through the committee.”

 Fiona McFarland via Florida House

McFarland’s bill (HB 569) would waive the state’s sovereign immunity for negligence claims against agencies and local governments up to $400,000 for single injuries and $600,000 per incident, twice the thresholds under existing law. Those thresholds would remain vastly smaller than what’s allowed in some other states.

Sovereign immunity refers to the state’s authority to exempt itself from civil lawsuits, although the state does allow negligence claims against itself and its subdivisions — agencies, cities, counties, and public hospitals — within limits.

Injured parties can sue for damages and collect within the liability thresholds established by law, but if they win awards in excess of the limits they must go to the Legislature in the form of what’s called a claims bill to collect the overage. These in the past have involved harm from traffic accidents caused by government workers, medical malpractice at public hospitals, or wrongful convictions that have resulted in prison sentences.

The Legislature last increased the liability threshold in 2010.

McFarland’s bill made it through two committees without much trouble, but Judiciary Chairman Tommy Gregory decided to merge it with his own legislation restricting litigation financing — investments in civil claims made in anticipation of a share in any recoveries. The Gregory definition of the term is broad enough to include expensive mass tort litigation and the run-of-the-mill trial lawyers’ contingency fees.

“The concerns around third-party litigation financing are very real; there are tremendous merits to that bill. But I don’t think there was support broadly enough to move it through the committee,” McFarland told the Phoenix following Wednesday’s committee meeting.

A Senate version of her bill is still alive and was set for a hearing before that chamber’s Appropriations Committee on Thursday, its last hearing before it would be eligible for a Senate floor vote.

Ground for hope? “It could be,” McFarland said. “Procedurally, as with any bill the Senate can send their legislation over to the House and ask us to concur with it or not.”

Still, “As bills move through the committee process, it becomes clear where members’ appetites are for various pieces of legislation,” she said.

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Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.


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