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As the Legislature opens today, bills promoted by business interests would once again encroach on the rights of consumers and employees, particularly in medical malpractice, workers’ compensation and auto liability.
Of particular concern to the Florida Justice Association, a plaintiffs legal group, is the Damages for Medical or Health Care Services bill. It was introduced in the state House by Dave Hood Jr., R-Daytona Beach and managing partner of the insurance and medical malpractice defense firm Smith, Hood, Stout, Bigman & Brock.
“The bill is designed to govern what amount of a medical bill a plaintiff in a personal injury action can put into evidence before the jury,” said Ken Sobel of Freedland Harwin in Fort Lauderdale, chair of the FJA’s medical malpractice legislative committee.
Many medical service costs are paid through a combination of insurance and Medicare or Medicaid. Payment often is a time-consuming process, and doctors often go to factoring companies to get paid promptly.
The doctors sell their accounts receivables at a discount, and the contracted factor makes its earnings by wading through the red tape to collect the remainder. These collections include court judgments.
Hood’s bill would require a jury to consider only the actual amount paid to the doctor, which would in essence force factoring companies out of medical services, Sobel said.
“If a factor pays a doctor $10 on a $15 bill and only gets $10, then what has it done?” he asked. “It’s going to be a disincentive for doctors to use factoring companies.”
Limiting a jury’s consideration to what a doctor gets versus actual costs is also detrimental the plaintiff’s efforts to secure a judgment for future medical needs, he said.
“People that are permanently injured have to be able to show what care costs,” Sobel said. “There’s no guarantee that in the future the insurance company is going to be there or will pay at the same rate.”
A second part of the bill would require plaintiff’s to prove their medical services were necessary. Sobel wonders what happens in malpractice situations when a doctor performs an unnecessary procedure.
“This punishes you again if you are so unfortunate as to have gotten yourself seen by a doctor who did the wrong thing,” he said.
Associated Industries of Florida supports the bill, maintaining plaintiffs “artificially inflate” expenses because only the amount billed is admissible.
On the “medically necessary” provision, the AIF said, “Only evidence of the amount actually paid for medically necessary treatments should be admissible.”
Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, failed to get a bad faith bill through last year. She is back with HB 187, a safe harbor bill that requires an insurance claimant to provide written notice of a loss within 45 days. Upon receipt of notice, if the insurer offers the lesser of the amount claimant “is willing to accept” or the policy limit, the insurer is not liable for a bad faith failure to settle.
Personal injury attorney Sean Domnick of Domnick Shevin in Palm Beach Gardens said insurance companies currently have to act as if they were the insured.
“This allows insurance companies not to act in the best interest of insurers,” he said. “When a third-party judgment comes, it’s left on the backs of the insured.”
If passed, Domnick predicted the bill would lead to more lawsuits because cases that would have settled under the current climate will not.
Two bills will make it harder for media companies to provide information about arrests and accidents. CS/HB 265 goes after companies that post mugshots on the Internet and charge the arrested person for its removal. It would bar county sheriffs from posting mugshots on their jail information web pages, a common method for media organizations to acquire the image.
“I think the House is approaching it from the wrong way,” said Sam Morley, attorney and lobbyist for the Florida Press Association. “We’d like to see it more focused on those who are charging to have the photos taken down.”
Legitimate news organizations would still have access to mugshots but would have to make individual photo requests. Morley said the association supports a Senate version that provides a civil cause of action against companies that solicit or charge money to remove mugshots.
Another bill, SB 1046, would restrict information news organizations get from accident reports. Sen. Bill Galvano’s, R-Bradenton, crash reports bill would require law enforcement to redact all contact information on the parties involved in the accident. Also, journalists would have to make individual requests for each report.
Galvano’s bill proposes the contact information be exempt from open records law for 60 days “to combat widespread insurance fraud that occurs when the information is unlawfully used to contact the parties involved.”
“We’re hoping we can work with the sponsors to keep our early access rights,” Morley said.
One of the more ambitious bills comes in a 79-page document filed by a civil attorney, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Doral. Provisions include increasing financial responsibility limits for bodily injury or death, repealing the state’s no-fault auto insurance law, terminating personal injury protection policies and adding notification requirements.
The bill has no Senate companion and no staff analysis and hasn’t been acted on since it got to the Insurance and Banking Subcommittee in December.
The AIF, expressing disappointment over the results of a 2012 PIP reform law, noted the Legislature’s exploration of options for strengthening “or replacing” PIP.
“AIF will stand ready to assist and engage in such efforts that parallel our goals of curbing wasteful litigation and overbilling,” the AIF said in legislative report issued Thursday.
Florida legislators are nothing if not determined to expand gun rights. Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, is thumbing his nose at the federal government with the Second Amendment Protection Act, which declares no agent of the state may participate with or assist federal agents in the enforcement of federal firearms laws.
It flatly states, “The Legislature finds the enforcement of firearms and ammunition regulations remains a power reserved to the state of Florida.”
A Florida agent who knowingly violates the law, should it pass, “shall be deemed to have resigned a commission.”
Sen. Greg Evers, R-Pensacola, filed SB 448 to address an issue raised over the application of the Stand Your Ground law. It would grant immunity to anyone who displays a gun or fires a warning shot in self-defense. Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman, received a 20-year prison sentence for firing a gun into a wall during a domestic dispute. She won an appeal and is awaiting retrial.
The National Rifle Association is backing House and Senate companion bills that don’t have anything to do with real guns. Going after school administrators, the bills would bar schools from disciplining children who pretend to play with guns. It’s known as the “Pop-Tart bill” for a 7-year-old Maryland boy who was suspended for chewing his toaster pastry into the shape of a flat pistol.
Yet another bill would prevent the “discriminatory practice” of charging gun owners higher rates on homeowner insurance policies.
Several bills in the works would make it harder to get an abortion. SB 918 would require abortions to be performed in hospitals and revise circumstances for third-trimester abortions, already a rarity. HB 545 would prohibit all abortions, with the life of the mother being the only exception.
Notably absent from this year’s agenda is an alimony reform bill. Alan Frisher, head of Alimony Reform Florida, said Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, and Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, opted not to file alimony bills.
Frisher got a comprehensive alimony bill passed last year, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it out of concern for a provision allowing the retroactive modification of orders.
Frisher offered Scott’s fall re-election campaign as the reason.
“Unfortunately, no matter how much right was on our side, we’re assured of battling with the (Florida Bar) family section in what would have been perceived as a very controversial bill at a time when controversy is not what our governor needs or wants,” Frisher said.