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Tort Reform – The Devil’s Greatest Trick

Moses Dewitt Florida Attorney
Moses Dewitt Florida Attorney

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist. For years, insurance companies have pushed ad campaigns and marketing efforts encouraging tort reform. Pointing to frivolous lawsuits, insurance companies have tried to convince the public that tort reform is a necessity. In fact, the reality is quite different.

If you or a loved one have been in an accident, you may understand why tort reform is not good for anyone, except the insurance companies. We have all heard stories of frivolous cases, which have been parodied in movies and television for decades. The McDonald’s coffee case was an ongoing joke on late night televisions shows and continues to live on as apart of pop culture folklore. However, the true details of the case never made headlines.

We are expecting to see a renewed tort reform push to limit medical malpractice damages and reduce attorneys’ fees for workers compensation claims along with several other measures.

The woman who sued McDonald’s suffered third-degree burns (the most serious kind) and required skin grafts on her inner thighs and elsewhere. McDonald’s received more than 700 previous reports of injury from its coffee, including reports of third-degree burns, and had paid settlements in some cases. The woman offered to settle the case for $20,000 to cover her medical expenses and lost income. However, McDonald’s refused and never offered more than $800, so the case went to trial. The jury found the woman to be partially at fault for her injuries, reducing the compensation for her injuries accordingly. However, it was the jury’s punitive damages award that made headlines — upset by McDonald’s unwillingness to correct a policy despite hundreds of people suffering injuries. Ultimately, the woman and McDonald’s reached a confidential settlement to avoid years of appeals and uncertainty.

Truth be told, most people who are injured simply want to get their medical bills paid, so that they don’t have a mountain of debt due to an accident that wasn’t their fault. Most injury attorneys I speak with are in favor of measures to restrict frivolous lawsuits. However, frivolous lawsuits are the exception, not the rule. While insurance companies may want to convince the public otherwise, frivolous lawsuits have harsh consequences and subject any attorney filing one to sanctions and potential discipline.

In the upcoming 2020 legislative session, we are expecting to see a renewed tort reform push to limit medical malpractice damages and reduce attorneys’ fees for workers compensation claims along with several other measures. Many of these measures were previously struck down by the Florida Supreme Court. However, emboldened by the appointment of three new Florida Supreme Court Justices, insurance companies are expected to take another crack at tort reform. We will keep you posted throughout the year as the legislative session unfolds.

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