The Florida-based Morgan & Morgan law firm, which mainly specializes in personal injury cases, issued a war cry to its attorneys last week after lawmakers passed and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a measure making it harder to sue businesses and insurance companies.
An email, sent by Chief Operating Officer Reuven Moskowitz, told the firm’s staff that Morgan & Morgan “will not be giving an inch to (insurance) carriers ever again. Under no circumstances will we be agreeing to any continuances … or requests to extend deadlines to answer complaints.” The email was provided Monday night to City & State and confirmed as authentic by firm founder John Morgan.
“We may want to help the human being defense attorney because we know them and maybe like them, but we will not because they work for an enemy who is heartless and ruthless,” the email said. “The enemy who just tried to kill us in FL. They work for the enemy who would like nothing more but for you to be unemployed. We work for the people.”
The new law now further intensifies the decades-old conflict between plaintiffs’ firms like Morgan & Morgan, a legal behemoth with over 800 lawyers in 36 states and Washington, D.C., and the white-shoe firms that represent a host of Big Business and “chamber of commerce” clients in the Sunshine State. Morgan himself also personifies their sworn enemy: “billboard lawyers,” as Associated Industries of Florida put it.
After the Florida Senate gave final approval, DeSantis on Friday quickly signed the bill (HB 837), aimed at helping shield businesses and insurance companies from lawsuits. Such measures are commonly referred to as “tort reform,” defined by Forbes as “any attempt (by) lawmakers to make it more difficult for injured victims to file lawsuits against those who hurt them (and) limit the amount of compensation victims can recover when they do file.”
Tort reform began in earnest in Florida under Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, including a 2006 overhaul that limited the amount of damages a defendant in a civil case has to pay. This year’s bill, which took effect immediately, reduces from four years to two years a statute of limitations for filing negligence lawsuits and largely eliminates “one-way attorney fees” that insurers may have to pay to cover the costs of plaintiffs’ lawyers.
“This year, Tallahassee was bought and paid for by the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the Chamber of Commerce … this is tort reform at levels we've never, ever seen before – ever,” John Morgan told City & State in a phone interview Monday night. “This makes Jeb Bush look like a progressive.”
Republican leadership in the Legislature also “made it effective the day that DeSantis signed the bill and they did that on purpose, despite us having all sorts of discussions with them about that. … They were having none of that. ‘The day he signs it, that law is the law.’ We spent a lot of time saying, look, make it prospective, not immediate. They said no,” Morgan said.
“I had many conversations with Speaker Renner about that. So this was done by design … like saying we're in the middle of a basketball game and dunking was not allowed, but now it's allowed,” he added. A request for comment is pending with a spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, an attorney who specializes in “commercial litigation.”
Previous coverage – Florida defense bar warned of deluge of lawsuits before tort reform took effect
In fact, the day before DeSantis signed this year's tort reform bill, a statewide group of lawyers for Big Business concerns and others warned the head of the Florida Supreme Court of a deluge of lawsuits trying to slip in before the law took hold. The Florida Defense Lawyers Association asked Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz for an emergency order “allowing defendants additional time to respond to a complaint.”
The Florida Justice Association, which represents the state's trial lawyers, countered with its own letter saying "the current situation is not an emergency and does not warrant the Court issuing orders outside the normal rules and procedures." As of midday Tuesday, the court had issued no related orders.
But the warning came true: The Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday reported, using data from the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal, that “90,593 circuit civil cases were filed between March 17 and March 22 in Florida. That is 77% of the 118,179 cases filed between Jan. 1 and March 22.”
Brewster Bevis, president & CEO of Associated Industries, praised Renner, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and others last week, saying “Florida’s difficult legal climate has plagued businesses in our state for too long and was holding our economy back … Balance will once again be restored to the legal system and billboard lawyers will no longer be allowed to get away with abusing it for their own benefit.”
Morgan dismissed those concerns: “All of a sudden the insurance industry’s going, ‘oh, woe is us’? Look what they're doing. We're not operating in bad faith. If we didn't file the lawsuits, our clients would be suing us for legal malpractice. It'd be like letting the statute of limitations run by not filing. We had no choice…
“So what (our) email is about is, now they're all asking for courtesies and extensions and we're saying ‘no,’ why would we give a courtesy to somebody who came up and kicked us in the (crotch) as hard as they could? We're not gonna give them any courtesy.”
Ed. Note – An earlier version of this story in Tuesday’s “First Read” newsletter incorrectly attributed the email to Matt Morgan. He was cc’d on the message.