Amid the chaos of a national election season, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s going on at home here in Florida. This year, all 40 of Florida’s state Senate seats and all 120 seats in the state House of Representatives are up for re-election -- though, granted, a few seats were uncontested.
The point is, this is a big deal.
As a small business owner, I am well aware that what happens in Tallahassee has a direct impact on my business and my livelihood. These are the laws and regulations that can make it easier, or more difficult, to succeed and grow my business. But I’m not the only one who realizes how much is at stake: personal injury lawyers are investing heavily to influence our elections, and leave their mark on the state Capitol for years to come.
A newly-released statewide report from Sick of Lawsuits Florida (SOL), took a deeper look at just how much trial lawyers are spending to keep Florida a lawsuit-creating haven.
The report found that Florida trial lawyers have spent $6.2 million on state political contributions this election cycle, totaling $1.1 million to individual state candidates, $1.6 million to state-party committees, and $3.5 million to Super-PAC’s and other outside groups.
So, what does $6.2 million get you in Tallahassee?
Over the past two legislative sessions there were several legal reform bills before the Florida Legislature. Each of these bills was a smart, commonsense reform that would have significantly improved Florida’s legal environment. But, none of the bills even managed to make it out of committee. With this track record, it’s no wonder that half of small business owners in the state think that nothing is being done to enact legal reform.
While this may be a great return on investment for personal injury lawyers for their campaign contributions, it’s a blow against small business owners like me since it all too often leads to bad laws that encourage more lawsuit abuse at our expense.
While lawsuit abuse can take many forms, the end result is always bad news for Florida’s small businesses. We’ve increasingly seen personal injury lawyers take advantage of loopholes in well-meaning Consumer Protection Act (CPA) laws to file frivolous lawsuits over minor infractions where no consumers are actually harmed. These lawsuits clearly are not about targeting actual fraud and abuse, they’re about personal injury lawyers chasing big payouts by targeting small business owners.
Thanks to a recent Florida Supreme Court decision overturning attorney fee caps, personal injury lawyers are now even targeting workers compensation to file frivolous claims to line their own pockets while driving up insurance costs for businesses.
The resulting lawsuits involve expensive settlement fees, prolonged legal battles and increased liability costs for small businesses. Fighting these lawsuits is usually more costly than settling them, and businesses with limited resources must often settle quickly – even if they’ve done nothing wrong. The continued onslaught of these lawsuits often force small business owners like myself to close their doors.
If small businesses could contribute millions in campaign contributions maybe we would be less of a target. While personal injury lawyers may have that luxury, we do not.
But that doesn’t mean small business are powerless. We still have the ability to hold our elected officials accountable and make our voices heard. With our entire state legislature up for re-election this year, it’s more critical than ever that we choose our candidates wisely.
I urge my fellow small business owners and citizens, put your candidates on the spot. When they’re campaigning in your community, ask them where they stand on the issue of lawsuit abuse. Ask your candidates if they will stand up for small businesses across the state or if they will cave to personal injury lawyer influence.
Florida deserves better, and we, as the backbone of Florida’s communities and economy, deserve better too.
Bennett Pumo is the owner of Benedetto’s Ristorante Italiano in Land O' Lakes.