Welcome back! We begin 2021 in Florida. Well, from our home offices, reporting on risk and insurance headlines in Florida. We traverse the Sunshine State’s branches of government, with a brief word on each, as we kick off our 6th year of The Way.
The Florida Supreme Court, in a 6-1 ruling, revised the state’s standard for determining whether lower-court judges should grant summary judgment in civil lawsuits. With the ruling, the high court aligned Florida with a federal summary judgment standard—an approach backed by multiple Florida business groups. The matter came before the court after attorneys in a fatal traffic-accident case were granted permission to submit briefs about whether the summary judgment standard should be changed. Based on the order, state courts will begin to apply the federal summary judgment standard on May 1, 2021.
The majority opinion stated, “we reaffirm the bedrock principle that summary judgment is not a substitute for the trial of disputed fact issues.” The opinion went on to say, “[o]ur goals are simply to improve the fairness and efficiency of Florida’s civil justice system, to relieve parties from the expense and burdens of meritless litigation, and to save the work of juries for cases where there are real factual disputes that need resolution.” This week’s opinion modifies an evidentiary standard on summary judgment that was first announced 53 years ago.
Moving from the judicial to the legislative branch, the Florida state legislature will begin its annual session on March 2, 2021. Over four days next week, the Florida Senate will hold its first round of committee meetings. Senate panels are scheduled to receive presentations about issues such as COVID-19 and the property insurance system. Next Wednesday the Senate Health Policy Committee will host a discussion by officials from the state Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Health about COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Also on tap, the Florida Insurance Commissioner and Citizens Property Insurance Corp. (Citizens) will present to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee about property insurance. State-backed Citizens will be reporting to the committee a large increase in the number of policies written compared to the private insurance market.
We close with news from the state’s executive branch. Former Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections Julie Jones has been appointed Deputy Chief Financial Officer within the Office of Chief Financial Officer. As Deputy CFO, Ms. Jones will team with sworn law enforcement, including Investigative and Forensic Services, Public Assistance Fraud and Workers’ Compensation to prosecute insurance fraud. Citing increasing insurance rates resulting from fraud, Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis will direct Deputy CFO Jones “to coordinate with all of DFS’ divisions to crack down on fraud, waste and abuse.”
Congress will meet this afternoon to formally count the votes cast by the Electoral College. Following procedures outlined in the Electoral Count Act of 1887, members of the House of Representatives and Senate will meet in a joint session in the House Chamber at 1 p.m. Vice President Mike Pence will preside in his role as president of the Senate. Leaders of both major parties will appoint lawmakers from both chambers to serve as "tellers." Vice President Pence will open certificates of the electoral votes from each state – whose electors met to cast their ballots on Dec. 14 – and hand them to the tellers to read aloud. As they read a state's certificate, Vice President Pence will call for objections to the state's votes. We’ll be watching.
Yesterday was Election Day, again, in Georgia. The Peachtree State held two crucial runoff elections that will determine which party controls the United States Senate. Incumbent Republican Senate candidates Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue faced off against Democratic rivals Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Democrats need to win both seats to force a 50-50 Senate and gain control with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris eventually casting possible tie-breaking votes. We’ll report on the outcome, and impact, of these electoral events.
Making Our Way Around the Country
The United Kingdom and the European Union reached a trade deal to govern their post-Brexit relationship, settling their final disputes days before the transition period ends. The U.K. voted to leave the EU in 2016, and left the bloc on January 31, 2020. Negotiators on each side had until the end of 2020 to work out a trade deal. The 1,246-page trade document covers an array of trade issues and accords on topics such as nuclear energy and exchanges of intelligence. Commentators conclude that, based on the deal, the U.K. will face no tariffs or quotas in its trading relationships with the E.U. The agreement helps prevent a “hard” Brexit, which could have caused widespread disruptions across Europe.
Effective January 1st, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will require odometer disclosures for every transfer of ownership for the first 20 years, beginning with Model Year 2011 vehicles. Model Year 2010 and older vehicles will continue to be subject to the previous 10-year disclosure requirements and thus are exempt from extended Federal odometer disclosure requirements. Transportation pundits maintain that the average age of the U.S. fleet of vehicles is older than ever, and that NHTSA’s finalized rule addresses an increase in odometer fraud. In other trucking news, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to include rear impact guards, which have been required on most commercial vehicles for nearly 70 years, among the Minimum Periodic Inspection Standards.
The Maine Supreme Court unanimously ruled on a Workers' Compensation Board appellate division case involving an injured “aquaculture” worker. The claimant slipped and hurt her knee while caring for salmon, which were raised in cages located less than a mile offshore. The employer / carrier contended that the Workers' Compensation Board lacked jurisdiction because the claimant should be considered a “seaman” under federal admiralty law under the Jones Act. The Supreme Judicial Court likened the salmon farm to an offshore oil platform, and noted that oil platform workers do not fall under the Jones Act jurisdiction. The majority held that, while a worker might be exposed to the elements of the sea on a platform, it’s not “a traditional sea-centric occupation.” Justice Catherine Connors wrote, “[j]ust as one might drill for oil on land or on the sea, fish farming may be accomplished on land as well as on the sea.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) intends to use $145 million from the Workers’ Compensation Security Fund as COVID-19 grants to businesses. The proposal would require a vote from the Republican-majority Legislature to appropriate the money. Pennsylvania recently tapped into the fund for $185 million to balance the delayed 2020-21 budget that passed in November. The fund, financed by premiums on workers’ compensation insurance policies, ensures claims are paid if an insurer becomes insolvent.
Back to our main story this week, we ring in 2021, like we do every year at GB—with #oneword. We select one word to stick with us all year across all aspects from home, to work, to all the steps (or staircases) in between. We’ve given you a few candidates throughout this edition to help you discern your word for the year. As for us, we’re going with “Yet,” as a reminder to look at what’s ahead, and “Act,” to start 2021 strong. Give it some thought. We invite you to share your #oneword with us directly or with our community on LinkedIn or on Twitter. It’s great to be back! See you next week.