Florida TV Viewers Pelted with COVID-19 Trial Lawyer Ads

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Legislature moving on bills to address covid liability concerns

As Florida legislators meet and determine how best to handle the pandemic’s continuous impacts, new data from the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) demonstrates the need to prioritize liability protection.

Florida was a prime target for trial lawyers in 2020. From March through December last year, Florida accounted for approximately 20% of ad spots and spending on legal services TV ads mentioning COVID-19 or coronavirus. An estimated $6.6 million were spent to air the nearly 35,000 ads. Florida ranks No. 1 both in the amount spent by trial lawyers on ads and the number of ads aired when compared with other U.S. states and national cable and network TV. 

“These numbers show just how important it is for Florida lawmakers to work together on a legislative solution to support health care providers, businesses, and their employees who have been on the frontlines, responding to the pandemic, as they’re targeted with lawsuits by plaintiffs’ attorneys,” ATRA President Tiger Joyce said.

The state’s legislature is quickly moving on a handful of bills to provide much-needed liability protections for individuals, health care providers, businesses, and other organizations.

Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) introduced S.B. 74, related to COVID-19 liability claims against healthcare providers and S.B. 72, which would create civil liability protections for individuals, businesses, and other organizations against COVID-19-related claims. H.B. 7 is identical to S.B. 72 and was introduced by Lawrence McClure (R-Dover).

S.B. 74 is scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee. S.B. 72 was reported favorably out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 25 by a vote of 7-4 and H.B. 7 was reported favorably out of the House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee on February 3.

“It is encouraging to see Florida’s legislature working toward enacting reasonable liability protections for businesses, health care providers and countless other organizations to protect them from entrepreneurial trial attorneys who seek to profit from the pandemic,” Joyce said.

To date, 21 states and the District of Columbia have enacted some level of COVID-19 liability protections.  

Polling shows more than 76% of Floridians do not believe lawmakers are doing enough to combat lawsuit abuse. Approximately 80% believe that healthcare workers should not have to consider the risk of being sued while fighting COVID-19 and that consumers should not sue over product flaws and manufacturers assisting in the COVID-19 effort.

“While a national solution would create a more predictable system for all and would ease the burden on companies that operate across state lines, the onus has fallen on the states,” Joyce said. 

Excessive tort costs in Florida resulted in a loss of 161,735 jobs and a “tort tax” of $719.01 per person according to a 2020 study

Recent polling reveals broad bipartisan support for elected officials to respond to pandemic-related issues – rather than trial lawyers filing lawsuits to address such concerns. Key findings show that 74% of respondents believe that the government should support small businesses affected by COVID-19 with grants or loans, versus 6% who said lawyers should help small businesses pursue legal claims instead. 

“The data shows that Americans are tired of trial lawyers’ schemes,” Joyce said. “When it comes to COVID-19 recovery efforts, the evidence is clear – a majority of Americans want their elected officials – not trial lawyers – to handle COVID-19 relief and aid.” 

Despite the lack of public support for COVID-19 litigation, law firms marketed their services aggressively. Moreover, an analysis by the Wall Street Journal found that dozens of top law firms received millions in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Some firms spent those dollars to increase their advertising, including a Southern U.S. powerhouse personal injury law firm, Morgan & Morgan, which has dozens of offices in Florida. ATRA’s report found that Morgan & Morgan was the top sponsor for COVID-19 legal services TV ads from March through December, airing approximately 70,000 ads at a cost of $10.5 million.

“This money was meant to help struggling businesses cover operating expenses including rent and employee salaries and benefits, but at least some of the money was used by law firms to recruit potential plaintiffs for future litigation,” Joyce said. “Unfortunately, it’s healthcare and frontline workers, small businesses and employees, who will ultimately pay the price when astronomical litigation costs force them to close or raise prices, simply to keep up.”

Nationally, 176,053 advertisements for legal services and/or soliciting legal claims mentioning COVID-19 or coronavirus aired in the United States at an estimated cost of $34.4 million. When compared with legal services ads soliciting medical device claims, three times as many COVID-19 legal services ads aired. During that same time period, 7,734 lawsuits related to COVID-19 were filed in the U.S.
The full report, including city-specific data for Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Tallahassee, Jacksonville and West Palm Beach, is available at ATRA.org.

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