Florida House, Senate Committees Advance Slightly Different Tort-Reform Measures

March 17, 2023

A Florida bill that would clamp further limits on attorney fees and litigation passed another Senate committee Thursday, moving it closer to a Senate floor vote.

Senate Bill 236, sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, differs slightly from a House version, HB 837, and the two would have to be reconciled before passing the Legislature. The Senate version, approved by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on Thursday by a vote of 13-6, now contains an exception to the ban on one-way attorney fees in some circumstances.

SB 236 has passed three committees by large margins. It would allow one-way fees, which have been called the chief culprit for Florida’s overheated insurance claims litigation scene, when insureds seek a declaratory judgment after an insurer denies a claim, such as in life insurance claims by beneficiaries. That has raised concerns in the insurance industry that it would give plaintiffs’ attorneys an opening that could be exploited to generate fees that would have to be paid by insurers.

A trial attorney said those concerns are overblown and the fees would be requested in relatively few cases.

In the House, HB 837 has also passed committees and is ready for a third reading by the full House chamber. That bill would allow one-way fees for declaratory judgment actions only in cases of “total coverage denial.”