Rep. Fitzenhagen disputes classification of Florida as judicial hellhole

by Carrie Bradon, Florida Record
Rep. Fitzenhagen disputes classification of Florida as judicial hellhole(84K PDF)

State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-Fort Myers) of the 78th District disagrees with a recent publication of the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) that ranked Florida as the second-worst judicial hellhole in the nation, a ranking believed to be strongly linked to frivolous lawsuits and an overall lack of tort reform.

“I do not consider Florida a judicial hell hole,” Fitzenhagen told the Florida Record. “Rather. I believe Florida is a bastion of sound legal representation and knowledgeable, balanced jurisprudence.”

Fitzenhagen said in any industry or field, there will always be individuals who abuse the system. For example, in the case of Florida, a 2018 class action lawsuit was brought against McDonald’s in which the plaintiff alleged that they were forced to pay for cheese even if they did not want it.

According to the American Tort Reform Association, “The lawsuit was filed by Andrew Lavin of the Miami-based Lavin Law Group and it quickly caught the attention of another South Florida plaintiffs’ firm. John Uustal of Kelley Uustal believes this case is actually a secret plot by tort reform organizations to discredit the Florida trial bar.”

In situations such as these, Fitzenhagen believes the answer lies with determining those who are guilty of fraud.

“The answer to diminish fraud and protect our citizens is to aggressively pursue the fraudsters with both civil and criminal penalties, not to punish a sector of an industry that has committed no fraud,” Fitzenhagen said. “Florida courts are a check on persons and businesses that may be unscrupulous or negligent. As the third largest state, it is only logical that we would have a large number of torts claims.”

Fitzenhagen was frustrated to find that the ATRA report failed to mention the 2019 legislation which is seeking to diminish the rights of claimants.

“Without a free and active legal system we would not be able to seek redress for injured Floridians,” Fitzenhagen said. “Without an aggressive trial bar we would not be able to deter things like the Ford Pinto defect or the failure of the tobacco industry to be forthcoming about the risks of smoking.”

In regards to the question of trial lawyers, Fitzenhagen set the record straight as to the question of attorneys bringing forth useless and “meritless” cases.

“Each case that is brought forth is the result of a lawyer spending untold hours and a very significant amount of money to bring the case to trial,” Fitzenhagen said. “I acknowledge there are some lawyers who try to game the system and act dishonorably. The way to eliminate this element of the profession is to aggressively punish these perpetrators through fines or even disbarment. I am thankful that Florida has bright legal minds who are willing to go into the arena to defend individuals and equally thankful for the judiciary that applies the law fairly.”