Speaker Renner signals support for reforming sovereign immunity laws

Speaker Renner signals support for reforming sovereign immunity laws

House Speaker Paul Renner/House Photo Original

House Speaker Paul Renner, a Palm Coast attorney, says he supports reforming “sovereign immunity” laws that shield government entities from civil liability.

Whether that breathes new life into stalled legislation remains to be seen.

“I don’t think the government should have a right to hurt your kid in a negligent action and there’s no recovery, whereas a private company can hurt your kid, and pay reasonable compensation,” Renner said.

Renner was responding to a reporter’s question following a marathon floor session on Thursday.

He stressed that he was speaking only for himself, but his comments raised hopes for supporters of HB 569 by Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota.

“It is encouraging to hear Speaker Renner wants to take another look at our antiquated claims bill process and the limits on what people can recover when they are victimized by government negligence,” said Laura Youmans, legislative director for the Florida Justice Association.

Among other things, the measure would double the $200,000 per-person and $300,000 per-incident caps on claims against government entities beyond which, injured plaintiffs are required to seek legislative approval through a “claims bill.”

Supporters have been pressing the reforms for the past three years, arguing that updating the more than decade-old caps is only fair for severely injured plaintiffs.

In addition to increasing the per-person and per-incident caps to $400,000 and $600,000 respectively, the measure would allow local governments to negotiate higher settlements without first seeking legislative approval.

Other provisions would tie future cap increases to the Consumer Price Index and prohibit insurance companies from conditioning payments on the passage of a claims bill.

Local governments, rural school districts, and charity hospitals say doubling their liability exposure will send insurance costs soaring and risk their ability to pay for basic services.

HB 569 cleared the Civil Justice Subcommittee 17-1 in January, with Republican Rep. Patt Maney, a retired Okaloosa judge, casting the lone dissenting vote. House Appropriations approved it 27-0 a few weeks later.

McFarland abruptly pulled the bill from the Judiciary Committee agenda earlier this week, before Chair Tommy Gregory, a Lakewood Ranch attorney, could attach the substance of another bill he is sponsoring, HB 1179, that seeks to reform the litigation financing industry.

Otherwise known as the “Litigation Investment Safeguards and Transparency Act,” or “LISTA,” the bill would prohibit litigation finance investors from managing a lawsuit or receiving more proceeds from a recovery than the plaintiff. Another provision would require parties to disclose litigation financing agreements to opponents.

Supporters say the measure is necessary to discourage foreign adversaries from meddling in Florida’s court system.

Lawyer/lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle warn the measure would only enhance a corporate defendant’s already significant strategic advantage. Republican Rep. Mike Beltran, a Riverview attorney, said he was concerned LISTA could harm U.S. innovation. Cash-strapped startup companies depend on litigation financing to mount legal challenges against the Chinese manufacturers who pirate their inventions, Beltran noted.

After an intense debate, HB 1179 cleared the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, 10-7, on January 26.

Renner called the procedural maneuver to link sovereign immunity reforms to LISTA “normal jostling” in the legislative process.

“Ultimately, I think the process works really, really, well to go from good to great, or to kill bad policy,” he said. “So, the question is do the members want to hear a sovereign immunity bill by itself and move that to passage? I’d be interested to see how that turns out.”

Originally published at https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-news/speaker-renner-signals-support-for-reforming-sovereign-immunity-laws/

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