Family members of local crime victims unite in opposition to HB 837

Bill proponents call it ‘tort reform,’ but critics say it is a legislative gift to benefit insurance companies

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It was a historic meeting of local crime victims’ family members, many meeting for the first time on Thursday. They were rallying together in opposition of a proposed bill aimed at the civil court system, which they say puts every person in the state of Florida at risk.

They gathered in front of the Miami Lakes district office of Representative Tom Fabricio who co-sponsored HB 837.

On May 23, 2019, Marlin Goodluck was shot and killed at an apartment complex

His father was one of those who spoke out Thursday. “It is not just for us, it is for the future people,” said Nathaniel Warren.

Family members of some of the Parkland school shooting victims were there, too.

“This state government champions freedom right?,” asked Amin Chequer, whose daughter, Isabel, was one of the 17 injured during the mass shooting in 2018. “So, if we have a right to challenge a negligent business in civil court, why this law is trying to take away those rights?” he said.

Six-year-old murder victim King Carter’s father, Santonio, said those trying to push the agenda “don’t know the pain.”

He knocked multiple times on Fabricio’s office door. “Ain’t nobody in there,” he said.

Digging into Florida House Bill 837, proponents frame it as “tort reform,” and critics as a legislative gift to benefit insurance companies and to “erode access to justice” leaving small business owners, accident victims, and “everyday citizens” at the mercy of “insurance company whims.”

“If you think we have a crime problem now, just wait until this bill is passed,” said Todd Michaels, of the Florida Justice Association, who opposes the bill.

Other community stakeholder groups that are concerned about the legislation are crime victims and their advocates.

“Imagine Parkland with Amendment 10,” Alex Arteaga-Gomez told members of Florida’s House Civil Justice Subcommittee. “They could escape accountability for their own failures. And the next school, the next apartment complex, the next hotel, the next office building, will have no incentive to install better security for the people on its property.”

The legislation would:

  • Cap the amount insurance companies pay out in damages
  • Limit what a civil jury could hear about an injured person’s medical costs.
  • Shorten the statute of limitations for an injured person to file a claim
  • Could end attorney-client privilege for medical referrals

The bill’s co-sponsors are Fabricio, of Miami Lakes/Hialeah, and Rep. Tommy Gregory of Lakewood Ranch, Fla.

In February, members of Florida’s House Civil Justice Subcommittee heard from Florida’s Chamber of Commerce who were in support, as well as impassioned personal testimony from injured people in opposition.

“I am praying to God I have another 40 to 50 years left of my life and I have to live it with no hands because my insurance company just dropped my long-term disability,” one speaker said. “I dare you to attempt to sign this bill without having hands.”

His remarks ended with robust applause.

Not all Republicans supported the measure.

Rep. Mike Beltran of Valrico, a Harvard-trained lawyer, reminded the panel that he sponsored property insurance reforms that limited attorney fees. This measure goes too far, Beltran said. The bill doesn’t address the “dec” or declaratory judgment actions that companies file to avoid paying a life insurance claim, Beltran said.

“Who’s going to represent my wife after I die and there’s a ‘dec’' action?” he asked. “It’s bad policy.”

Legal analyst David Weinstein said that the proposed legislation will punish trial lawyers, protect the insurance companies and will have an adverse effect on the citizens of the State of Florida who are seeking to recover damages after they have been injured.

“Cutting the statute of limitations in half for bringing these types of cases and chipping away at the attorney-client privilege for medical referrals seems to be an overreaction to a contention that the current system is being abused, " said Weinstein.

Renée William, Executive Director, National Center for Victims of Crime said that the bill would result in more crime.

“Why would commercial properties provide reasonable security if they knew they would never be held accountable? I ask that the senators and representatives of Florida vote to keep the citizens of Florida safe as they did with the recent passing of Miya’s Law,” William said.

Michaels said the bill, “has one more committee stop in front of the House Judiciary Committee, and that’s next Wednesday. And if it passes through that committee, it’s going to be on the floor for the House to vote on.”

Related social media

Related link: House civil justice subcommittee moves tort measure

Read the bill: House Bill 837 (2023) - The Florida Senate

Related report: Hear what opponents and supporters had to say: (VIDEO) 2/24/23 House Civil Justice Subcommittee - The Florida Channel

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."