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Stop helping billboard lawyers at our expense | Opinion

South Florida Sun Sentinel| Read Full Article Here

By Mark Wilson

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Feb 14, 2023 at 9:51 am

Florida’s economy and quality of life are a model for nearly every state in America. We have excellent schools (including the nation’s No. 1 rated colleges and universities), a great environment, a quality of life second to none and a growing economy. In fact, Florida has nearly 450,000 open jobs, is growing by over 1,000 people every day, and leads the nation in hourly wealth migration, which is three times Texas, at $2.7 million per hour. However, a massive storm cloud on Florida’s otherwise bright future is our inflationary lawsuit abuse problem.

This isn’t a surprise to anyone traveling down Florida’s highways, where billboard after billboard invites residents and visitors to sue someone or even a local business. In fact, Florida has more trial lawyer advertisements than any country on the planet, and residents, visitors and job creators in every industry are paying the price.

According to a brand-new nationwide study, Florida’s lawsuit abuse climate costs Florida families over $5,000 each year — that’s $5,065 that could be spent on childcare, family, transportation or even savings. To put that in perspective, the average household also spends roughly that amount annually on groceries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With nearly historic inflation, it’s time the Florida Legislature puts consumers and local businesses ahead of these billboard trial lawyers. This lawsuit abuse “tax” increases the cost of every product or service Floridians purchase, from the price of toothpaste to the hourly rate for child care to the rising costs driving up insurance rates.

Mark Wilson is the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Only two other states, New York and Delaware, have higher per-household costs on lawsuit abuse, and what Florida spends on these lawsuits accounts for 3.6% of Florida’s $1.4 trillion gross domestic product; no other state surpasses 3% of state GDP. This means over $50 billion is spent on lawsuits in Florida every year. In comparison, Florida spends less on our health care and safety net programs and over $20 billion less on our education system. Imagine if consumers had that purchasing power back instead of transferring it to those lawyers on the billboards.

Businesses making decisions on where to relocate or do business are paying attention, and corporate general counsels are increasingly involved in complex economic development and expansion decisions. Every project Florida loses to other states means fewer jobs and a less resilient and diversified economy. It also means fewer opportunities for Floridians. Despite being the third largest state in the country by population and the 16th largest economy on the planet, Florida loses business because the regulatory and tax environment is right but we lack a fair, rational and consistent legal climate.

To be clear, the picture isn’t completely bleak. Thanks to the clear vision of Gov. Ron DeSantis and his consistent selection of judges that are focused on what the law says and not creating new laws from the judicial bench, Florida’s judicial system has vastly improved. Many are aware of the new Florida Supreme Court appointed under DeSantis, but fewer are aware of his same approach to appointing judges across the judicial system. He has done his part, and the Legislature now has the opportunity to pass meaningful legal reforms that will pull Florida from our nationwide bottom-five legal climate to one of the top legal systems in the country. We cannot be globally competitive if our products and services are artificially more expensive.

We have smart leaders in DeSantis, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner, but those three can’t pass legislation on their own. Businesses across the state, from Pensacola to Key West, are calling on their elected lawmakers to put their local businesses ahead of billboard lawyers and pass meaningful and comprehensive lawsuit abuse reform.

Mark Wilson is president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, immediate past chair of the National Association of State Chambers and was the first president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute.

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