The claims bill process for Florida personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits is once again coming under scrutiny for alleged lobbyist bias. This was after the Associated Press recently reported nearly half of the injury and wrongful death claims bills approved by state lawmakers in the last two years were awarded to victims represented by a lobbyist who is the brother of the state House speaker.
So why are personal injury and wrongful death cases handled in the legislature? Aren’t they handled in the courts? For those who aren’t familiar with the claims bill process, it deals specifically with claims against state and local governments that have already been through the court system. Florida allows exception to sovereign immunity (the idea that you can’t hold government accountable) so one can sue the government for negligence pretty much just like any other entity (with some exception). However, if you win, there is a damage cap of $200,000 for any individual person and $300,000 per incident. Those who have ever endured a serious injury know just how quickly one can burn through that amount – just in medical bills alone. So jurors at trial may award plaintiff damages far in excess of that amount, but that is all a plaintiff can collect – that is, unless they can find a state lawmaker to file a claims bill on their behalf requesting to be awarded more compensation to which they are rightly owed. That bill is then presented to the entire state legislature for approval. Each damage award is considered as a separate item by lawmakers. It is a tedious process that tends to require a lot of “cooks in the kitchen,” but it can be an invaluable means of compensation for those seriously injured.
Cases can range from those injured in a car accident with a negligent city worker to the medical malpractice of a nurse employed by a government-owned hospital.
Allegations of lobbying bias isn’t really anything brand new. In fact, back in 2013 and 2014, lawmakers didn’t approve a single claims bill, in part due to the firm opposition of the then-Senate president, who argued the bills were passing based on the effectiveness of their lobbyists, not the actual merits of the claim. Continue reading