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Scott and Atwater want PIP fix — but how?

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater called on lawmakers Tuesday to revamp state law governing motorists’ personal injury protection (PIP), which critics say is costing Floridians an extra $1 billion a year in higher costs stemming from fraud, questionable medical treatment and legal costs.

Insurance rates for the $10,000 mandatory PIP coverage have spiked as much as 80 percent in some Miami and Tampa Bay-area neighborhoods between 2008 and 2010, according to state officials.

PIP insurance claims also are up 40 percent over that time even as accidents statewide have tumbled by 8 percent – with leaders saying the disparity stems from a rising number of suspected staged accidents to fraudulently draw payments.

Atwater turned to law enforcement officers flanking him Tuesday at a Capitol news conference, saying, “we’re going to get you some relief.”  He also said consumers needed help.

“They have been trying to swim in a pool of piranhas, and we’ve got to throw them a lifeline,” Atwater said.

But Atwater, Scott and several lawmakers attending Tuesday’s call for change acknowledged that there was no clear path to overhauling the PIP system. 

Insurers, the hospital industry, lawyers and health care providers  were gathered into a working group last month under state insurance consumer advocate Robin Westcott, but failed to agree on recommendations.

“They’re all fighting for their part,” Atwater said.

Now, it’s legislators’ turn.

“It’s going to be a challenging bill to get passed,” acknowledged Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, an insurance agent, who doubles as chairman of the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee.

On dark day in Barahona case, care providers would gain legal shields

Monday, March 28th, 2011 by John Kennedy

A measure capping legal damages for agencies providing foster care services cleared a House committee on an 11-3 vote Monday, just hours after prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty for Jorge and Carmen Barahona, the Miami-Dade couple accused of torturing and killing their foster daughter last month.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, acknowledged the Barahona case hung heavy over his legislation, adding “evil people do evil things.”

But he said the death of  10-year-old Nubia and near death of her twin brother, Victor, would be best avenged by assuring that agencies can provide better care.

“We have to make sure people like Victor and Nubia are taken care of,” Plakon told the House Health Care budget subcommittee.

Supporters of the bill (HB 1019) said it’s needed to help stem rising liaibility insurance costs, which representatives of several children’s care organizations said are threatening to put them out of business.

But Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale trial lawyer, said, “If there’s an increase in lawsuits, it’s because more kids are being injured.”  (more…)

Foster care agencies looking for legal shield

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Legislation capping legal damages for agencies providing foster care services cleared a House committee Wednesday, despite emotional testimony from opponents who said lawmakers are putting dollars ahead of the safety of children in a troubled system.

But House sponsor Scott Plakon, R-Altamonte Springs, said his proposal (HB 1019) is aimed at helping agencies better serve children, by lowering insurance costs he says spike because of “frivilous lawsuits.”

“It’s clear, there is a problem with the rates going up,” Plakon told the House Human Services Access subcommittee. “Even if they don’t do anything wrong, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll get sued.”

But critics derided the legislation, coming only a month after the death of 10-year-old Nubia Barahona and near death of her twin brother, Victor, which the state’s Department of Children & Families acknowledges stemmed from systemic failures within the agency and a private organization, Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe Inc., which handled their adoption.

Our Kids could be shielded from more costly liability under the legislation, which cleared the committee on an 11-4 vote.

“This legislation is not in the public’s interest,” said Thomas Bates, a child advocate from Monticello who was raised in foster care. “It decreases the rights of foster children and it allows agencies to escape responsibility.” 

Plakon’s proposal would cap financial awards for pain and suffering at between $200,000 and $1 million, and would cap economic damages at $2 million.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, is sponsoring a similar bill (SB 1500). The bills also would lower the amount of liability insurance the agencies must carry from $1 million to $500,000. The measures also would hold DCF harmless from lawsuits filed against the agencies.

Trial lawyers’ executive director Scott Carruthers quits over racial mailer

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009 by Dara Kam

A race-baiting mailer backed by the state’s trial lawyers has resulted in a shake-up at the top of the group’s political organization.

Scott Carruthers, executive director of the Florida Justice Association, quit today after more than two decades years at the organization.

FJA political director Albert Balido and Deputy Executive Director Paul Jess have both been demoted.

Balido will continue on FJA as a lobbyist and Jess will keep his role as general counsel, according to FJA spokeswoman Jacqui Sisto.

“After 22 years of service to the FJA, Scott has decided to leave the organization and pursue other opportunities,” Sisto wrote in an e-mail.

Carruthers resigned after several heavy-weight lawyers dropped their Florida Justice Association membership in protest over the trial lawyers group’s failure to fire anyone in response to a race-baiting campaign mailer.

(more…)

Trial lawyers spend campaign cash at bondage bar

Friday, October 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam
Last year's Leather Masked Ball at Purgatory

Last year's Leather Masked Ball at Purgatory

The Florida trial lawyers political organization – Florida Justice PAC – spent more than $23,000 on food and beverages since the November election, including a $1,700 bash at a Miami Beach nightclub and two inexpensive tabs at a Ft. Lauderdale gay bar, according to state campaign records.

The expenses were filed under “other distributions” unlike most other campaign filings which include food and lodging spending under “expenditures.”

State records show that the association’s political arm spent a total of $125 at Purgatory bar in Ft. Lauderdale – $45 on July 8 and $80 on Sept. 15. The bar’s web site boasts of hosting the annual Leather Masked Ball, the “premier leather event in South Florida.”

1255149695-fl-thThe lawyers PAC also spent $1,706.93 on May 14 at Set Nightclub on trendy Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.

Set is a high-end, VIP lounge popular with celebs. Last year, Kevin Federline dropped $1,500 at the hot spot (and left a $700 tip) according to the bar’s web site. Pamela Anderson and Justin Timberlake also made appearances there.

Check back later for a response from the trial lawyers, who are now huddling in Orlando for an executive meeting.

Thrasher fights back against attack ads with a dozen fundraisers

Friday, August 14th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Former House Speaker John Thrasher has at least a dozen fundraisers scheduled before the Sept. 15 special election GOP primary to replace the late Sen. Jim King.

The Florida Dental Association, the Florida Medical Association are among those hosting the Florida fundraisers for the Senate District 8 candidate.

Thrasher, a prominent lobbyist, is under attack by “Stop Tax Waste,” a political group that launched an Internet site lambasting Thrasher for his spending while Speaker, including a lavish revamp of the his office and the House chambers.

“Stop Tax Waste” also launched a television ad this week blasting the Jacksonville Republican for being a Tallahassee insider and again accusing him of wasting taxpayer money.

Thrasher accused trial lawyers of being behind the attack ads, but the “Stop Tax Waste” folks deny the association.

The attack ads coincide with former state Rep. Stan Jordan’s entree into the race. Jordan now serves on the Duval County School Board.

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