Florida’s Tort Reform Law Already Impacting Healthcare Providers
Six months after Florida’s Tort Reform Law went into effect, it has not enticed insurers back to Florida or lowered premiums the way legislators said it would. Insurers (most recently Farmers) continue to leave the state, leaving Floridians with higher insurance bills and fewer options. With more storms reaching Florida this hurricane season, it is even less likely insurers will return or reduce premiums.
The only impact the law seems to have so far is to make it easier and more likely for insurance companies to deny legitimate insurance claims and reduce Floridians’ legal rights to sue their insurance companies when the insurance companies fail to pay valid claims. The new law provides insurers with more ways to unreasonably attack their policyholders, as well as the contractors and the doctors who provide services to policyholders and who await payment from the policyholders’ insurance benefits.
The law overturned 100 years of Florida legal precedent that for a century helped to level the playing field between Floridians and insurance companies. Under the new law, policyholders may no longer recover the reasonable cost of their attorneys’ fees when they win a lawsuit against their insurance company, decreasing the policyholders’ incentive and ability to pursue their rights to recover what they are entitled to under their policies. This change in the law also increased the incentives for insurance companies to deny or underpay claims, because they know their policyholders cannot do much about it since they cannot afford to sue their insurance companies and pay for their own attorney’s fees, even when they win. Attorneys will not help policyholders sue their insurance companies when the attorneys know there is no way to be paid, even if they win. Additionally, the law changes the negligence standard by letting defendants who are responsible for injuring a victim completely off the hook, releasing the defendants from all liability, if they are not at least 51% responsible for a loss.
These significant legal changes are negatively impacting Florida’s healthcare industry, causing some healthcare providers to decrease or avoid treating accident victims in Florida. The new law drastically tips the scales in favor of insurance companies, reducing the ability for healthcare providers – especially those who treat personal injury victims – to receive payment from insurance companies. It also has the effect of waiving the accident victims’ constitutional rights to privacy, including the oldest privacy right recognized by law, the attorney-client privilege. The result is that healthcare providers across the state are debating whether they want to treat accident victims – decreasing Floridians’ access to vital healthcare services, often at their most vulnerable times.
Florida healthcare providers need to be aware of the new law’s impact on their ability to receive payment from insurance companies, on the waiver of their confidentiality protections and privacy rights, their patients’ loss of attorney-client privilege when an attorney recommends a healthcare provider to an accident victim, and what legal recourse may still be available. Davis Goldman has extensive experience in healthcare litigation and has navigated these types of disputes from inception through trial and post-judgment proceedings. Attorneys at Davis Goldman are happy to help walk healthcare providers through all the effects of this significant change in Florida law.