Florida tops the annual pro-business Judicial Hellholes list with special recognition for the state Supreme Court’s “barely contained contempt” for other branches of government and “an aggressive personal injury bar’s fraudulent and abusive practices in South Florida.”
The report prepared by the American Tort Reform Association piles onto the conservative campaign against Justice Barbara Pariente, who also was targeted by the National Rifle Association for “a hushed discussion” with Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.
The report released Tuesday suggests “this majority is as partisan as ever and brazenly determined to influence the judicial selection process” when three justices retire in 2019. Pariente rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s attempt to force her off the case after arguments.
The ATRA report highlighted four medical malpractice cases before the high court that “undercut patient safety, protected lawyers’ fees, allowed higher damage awards and invalidated a law intended to reduce litigation.”
On the plaintiffs bar front, the report said, “Encouragingly, at least some plaintiffs’ lawyers who’ve crossed the line are being held accountable.” The remarks refer to the arrests of five South Florida auto insurance attorneys accused of paying kickbacks in a personal injury protection fraud.
“With the help of some lawmakers, too many are still getting away with too much,” the ATRA report said of PIP attorneys.
Ryan Banfill, spokesman for the Florida Justice Association plaintiffs bar organization, said the state has a vibrant, functioning justice system.
“Our state has a vibrant justice system that is working to keep Floridians safe and deter insurance companies and big corporations from taking advantage of people and small businesses,” he said. “That’s good for consumers and for business, too.”
Florida beat out California and St. Louis to lead the nation for the first time. The group cited eight jurisdictions where “too many judges seem more eager to expand civil liability than to respect precedent and the policymaking authority of duly elected lawmakers.”
The report also singled out “a gathering storm of abuse” on home contractor and auto repair assignments of benefits.
Also in the bull’s eye for criticism are Coral Gables for suing Florida Power & Light over extended Hurricane Irma power outages, Americans with Disabilities Act enforcement lawsuits and asbestos litigation.
Judges were praised for imposing $9.2 million in sanctions on Jacksonville attorneys in Engle-progeny tobacco cases.
While the Florida Supreme Court was criticized for finding state laws unconstitutional, the Legislature also was panned for killing bills at the behest of “the politically powerful personal injury lawyers.”
In summary, the report said, “Florida shows little inclination to make a much needed course correction.”