In a twist of fate and a sign of the times, some Florida business groups are backing the Democrat in a state House race in the Tampa area, while trial lawyers are putting their weight behind the Republican challenger.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that many in the plaintiffs’ bar, who have historically backed Democratic candidates, are now supporting Republican candidate Danny Alvarez in his bid for the House District 69, in southeast Hillsborough County. And incumbent state Rep. Andrew Learned, a Democrat, has won the favor of business groups, perhaps because of his support for legislation aimed at reducing runaway insurance claims litigation.
Learned, who voted in favor of 2021’s Senate Bill 76 and for SB 2D and SB 4D at this year’s special property insurance session of the Florida Legislature, has reported significant contributions from insurance companies, Associated Industries of Florida, and Publix grocery store company, all of which have leaned towards pro-business candidates in the past, the newspaper reported.
In the last few months, Learned has received contributions from Allstate Insurance Co., Zurich American Insurance, Courtesy Insurance Co., the Committee for Florida Justice Reform, and the Committee of Florida Agents, according to the Florida Department of State’s elections website. He also has seen in-kind support from the Florida Democratic Party and financial contributions from the Communications Workers of America.
Learned, in the House since 2020, has said that he agrees to some extent with the insurance industry stance that claims litigation is excessive in Florida and has helped drive up the cost of homeowners insurance.
“Last year, I broke with the majority of my party to vote for reforms in Senate Bill 76,” Learned wrote in a lengthy letter to constituents earlier this year, posted on his website.
“I had held my foot down on an issue I felt would disadvantage families who lost roofs in hurricanes – just like mine once did – and could not afford to replace it,” he added without specifying which amendment to SB 76 he was referring to. “Ultimately, I was able to negotiate that protection into the bill and I therefore felt comfortable voting for the final product.”
The representative suggested in the letter that insurers are not without blame, that some legitimate claims don’t get paid, and some policyholders need a good lawyer. He also quoted a statistic that shows that a third of the claims lawsuits in Florida were filed by just 25 attorneys.
He claimed that some of those lawyers, along with roofers, are supporting his opponent, Alvarez. Alvarez, a Tampa attorney who practices family law, could not be reached for comment by the Times.
The state elections site and the newspaper reported that Alvarez has received contributions from some trial lawyers and from the Florida Justice Association, a trial lawyers’ advocacy group. He also has seen in-kind support from the Florida Republican Party and checks from a Tampa bail-bond and surety company.
Learned also said in the letter that “a number of folks I’ve met with indicated that some of the worst offenders (insurers who were short-changing insured) were seemingly some of the same companies going insolvent. I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to imagine that insurance companies on the brink of going under tighten their belts trying to save the company, and in so doing short-change some clients on their claims either knowingly or unknowingly.”
Attorney Clif Curry of the Justice Association told the Times that Learned “has repeatedly voted against legislation that would protect consumers and hold businesses accountable” in other areas as well as insurance, and consistently chooses “protecting business interests” over consumers.
Learned’s campaign leads in financing, with more than $300,000 cash, compared to about $130,000 for Alvarez, the Times noted.
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