Proposals to allow juries to award prejudgment interest in any civil action on non-economic damages like pain, suffering and mental anguish are moving in both houses of the Florida Legislature. With an eye on promoting judicial efficiency, panels in the Florida House and Senate have approved the Florida Justice Association priority legislation. The bills passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday with a vote of 7-2 and House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee on Thursday on a vote of 11-4.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube (CS/SB 334) and Rep. Shawn Harrison (HB 469) would discourage delay tactics and encourage fair settlements for victims.
“Our law favors property over people. This bill fixes that,” FJA President Jimmy Gustafson told lawmakers during testimony in both committees.
Under the legislation, prejudgment interest for noneconomic damages would accrue from the date that the defendant receives notice of a claim by the plaintiff. The legislation only applies to causes of action that accrue on or after July 1, 2017 and there is no retroactive application.
“Why should there be a distinction between economic and non-economic damages. It’s all damage and injured parties are entitled to be made whole,” Rep. Harrison told members of the House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee. “I heard someone say, ‘What we’ll be doing is incentivizing insurance companies to settle cases.’ Why is that a bad thing?”
Rep. Erin Grall, an attorney and FJA member from Vero Beach, shared her unique perspective with the members of the committee.
“Prejudgment interest is only talked about or considered after there has been a jury verdict. A jury verdict for a plaintiff comes after somebody else has been determined to be at fault for the injury,” Rep. Grall reminded committee members. “For anybody to take for granted how easy it is to prove causation, you have not presented before a trial court in Vero Beach, Florida.”
“Thirty-eight states either have statutes on the books or case law that allows for the calculation of prejudgment interest in tort cases,” Sen. Greg Steube, the Senate sponsor of the bill, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs.
This proposal would bring Florida in line with those states including Georgia, Indiana and Texas.
“When you have this type of tool in the tool box it is clearly encouraging the settlement of these cases to the tune of 17 percent more in contract disputes (which allow prejudgment interest) over tort disputes,” Sen. Steube added.
A long line of representatives from the state’s insurance and business community spoke against the proposal in both committees saying it would be bad for the state’s employers.
Many influential lawmakers who heard the legislation apparently didn’t buy that argument.
“This is not an issue that should put businesses over people. This is because a defendant did something wrong, caused injury and it wasn’t one person or a judge or TV poll that said they did something wrong. There was a jury of their peers that went through the justice system and said this person did something wrong and this person deserves to be compensated,” said Sen. Anitere Flores as the Senate Judiciary Committee considered the proposal. “Unfortunately, there are some defendants where the tactic is to delay. That is the tactic. And when you have an entity where your business practice is to delay compensating someone to whom you have wronged that is a problem.”
The Senate bill moves to the Senate Rules Committee for consideration. The next stop for the House bill is in the Appropriations Committee.
Contact: Ryan Banfill
Florida Justice Association