“Bikers over Billionaires”-Why Motorcyclists are Leading the Attack on Lawsuit Limits

In Florida, the Republican-controlled Legislature is poised to pass sweeping limits on lawsuits, mostly shielding businesses, along with insurance companies, from the risk of costly payouts. The tort reform push (HB 837), a priority of Governor Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Paul Renner, has already been passed in the House, and now is ready to go before the Senate.

One key part of the legislation would raise Florida’s “comparative fault” standard, making lawsuits in the event of a crash more difficult to pursue. Going forward under the new standard, if the jury blames the rider for being more than 50% responsible – not a high bar, according to many – the crash victim would be entitled to nothing. Motorcycle riders and their attorneys also have remarked how failing to wear a helmet, which Florida has allowed for riders over age 21 since 2000, already can be considered by a jury when deciding legal damages. These changes could be critical for those injured in motorcycle crashes, especially if the jury blames the rider for being more than 50% responsible.

Further changes regarding insurance-related lawsuits also are being considered. Lawmakers aim to eliminate “one-way” attorneys’ fees, which currently require insurance companies to pay legal costs for successful plaintiffs, as well as make it more challenging for consumers to pursue frivolous or “bad faith” lawsuits against insurers. Other proposed changes include reducing the time limit for negligence lawsuits to be filed from four years to two, and altering the way medical expenses are presented in malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits. Many critics believe these changes are ultimately to the benefit of insurance companies. Additionally, these changes will apply to both property and auto insurance cases.

Opponents of the legislation argue that while insurance companies will be benefitting from the crackdown on lawsuits, many consumers will be discouraged from making valid claims. Todd Michaels, with the Florida Justice Association, the state’s trial lawyer organization, stated he believes “this represents the largest transfer of money, rights, and power from Floridians to the insurance industry that the state has ever seen.”

Bikers are responding to this push with anger and concern, as they fear the changes will lessen their chances of suing when injured in a crash. Many in the crowd have been wearing “Bikers over Billionaires” T-shirts, mocking the governor’s “Don’t Tread on Florida” campaign shirts.

Accusing the governor of caving in to insurance companies and other big donors by supporting the legislation, bikers feel betrayed by Florida’s dominant Republicans, whose politics they usually back. Many have criticizied the governor for this apparent lack of loyalty.

 “These are drastic changes. They’re calling it tort reform. But it’s really ‘let’s screw over Florida so (DeSantis) can get to the White House,” remarked Jose Mack, 55, or “J-Mack”, a leader of motorcycle clubs and organizations in central Florida. “The majority of the bikers are lifelong Republicans,” Mack added. “…But this is bad for all of us, not just bikers.”

Lawmakers also are proposing changes to premises liability laws to shield owners of multi-family residential properties, such as apartment complexes, from legal liability for crime that occurs on their grounds. Although the protections only would apply if equipment standards such as lights, security cameras, and locks on doors and windows were met, opponents of the legislation argue that it will leave many crime victims destitute, and will discourage developers from providing better security. Critics also warn that the provisions could incentivize developers to build in struggling neighborhoods, where the risk of being sued is low.

The legislation also has been criticized by crime victim-support organizations, as well as by parents of children victimized by school shootings and other violent crimes. “It’s just giving them a pass so they don’t have to do the right thing,” said Robert Bracewell, executive director of the Justice Coalition in Jacksonville.

(Image Source: Unsplash)

At the Herd Law Firm, we are motorcycle-riding lawyers, who support bikers and motorcyclists injured on the road, and have successfully represented such victims seeking the compensation they so need and deserve.

Date posted: 3/24/2023

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