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Courts gear up to handle a slew of new civil filings in the wake of tort law changes

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'Some circuits in the middle of the state received somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 newly filed cases per judge'

Chief Judge Jack Tuter

17th Circuit Chief Judge Jack Tuter told a recent judicial forum sponsored by ABOTA Ft. Lauderdale that over a 30-day period, circuit civil divisions logged more than 10,000 case, and the county civil logged more than 18,000.

The 17th Circuit is seeing a crush of some 30,000 new cases spurred by HB 837, the sweeping civil litigation reforms Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in late March.

Chief Judge Jack Tuter told a recent judicial forum sponsored by ABOTA Ft. Lauderdale that over a 30-day period, circuit civil divisions logged more than 10,000 cases, and the county civil divisions logged more than 18,000.

Tuter assured the audience that cases will be resolved without major disruption.

“There is nothing cataclysmic that is going to come,” he said.

The reforms cut in half the four-year statute of limitations for negligence claims, but they apply only to suits filed after the legislation went into effect with DeSantis’ signature.

Trial lawyers attribute the rush of new filings to litigants wanting their cases heard under the old law.

Judge Tuter said the circuit will bring on more senior judges and take other steps as necessary to tackle the additional workload.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz recently told the state’s 20 chief judges that he is monitoring the situation closely, Tuter said.

Large urban circuits like the 17th are better equipped to handle the increase, Tuter said, because they have more judges to share the workload.

Judges in the 17th Circuit are seeing an average workload increase of 700 to 775 cases, he said.

“Some circuits in the middle of the state received somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 newly filed cases per judge,” he said.

Chief judges suggested various strategies during the meeting with the chief justice, Tuter said.

“The judges’ discussions ranged anywhere from putting a complete, total freeze on newly filed cases, to doing nothing, to a variation of anywhere in between those two things,” he said.

Tuter said he does not favor putting cases on hold.

“There is no consensus on staying these cases,” he said. “I think it’s just going to put off the inevitable.”

Aggressive case management orders the Supreme Court imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic are here to stay, Tuter said.

Courts won’t know the full impact for another 60 to 90 days, when it’s clearer how cases are progressing, Tuter said.

Meanwhile, attorneys will have to work more collaboratively, Tuter said – including responding promptly to an opponent’s request to schedule a hearing.

“We are at a point where we are going to have to strictly enforce meet-and-confers before hearings can be set,” Tuter said.

Tuter mentioned an administrative rule in the complex litigation division that permits an attorney to schedule a hearing if an opponent fails to respond to a scheduling request with 48 hours.

“We’re not at that point with all the circuit civil divisions yet,” he said.

Lawyers can make their lives easier by honoring their oath of professionalism, said former ABOTA Ft. Lauderdale President Jeff Adelman.

“This can be a very stressful time for lawyers and judges because of all this extra work, but if we work together to find common ground, that is the best way for us to serve our clients and serve our communities and maintain our own mental health as well,” he said.

Presented April 10, the Judicial Forum on 2023 Tort Reform also featured Circuit Civil Administrative Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips, Judge Fabienne E. Fhanestock and Judge Robert W. Lee, administrative judge of the Broward County Court.

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