IN FLORIDA LAWSUITS BUSINESSES MUST BE REPRESENTED BY LAWYERS

by Edgar Alexander Gallego on Oct. 26, 2022

Lawsuit & Dispute Litigation Business Business  Business Organization 

Summary: Many businesses will be surprised to learn that they cannot defend themselves through their managers, employees, or administrators when the business is sued in Florida. Businesses in Florida must be represented by attorneys, except perhaps in small claims court cases where the dispute cannot exceed $8,000, not including interest, filing costs, and attorney fees.

IN FLORIDA LAWSUITS BUSINESSES MUST BE REPRESENTED BY LAWYERS

Your business may be at risk of losing a case if it fails to respond through legal counsel

1. Legal Representation of Businesses. The law is well established in the State of Florida that companies may not represent themselves through their officers, managers and/or employees, unless such persons are also lawyers. In Cortez Community Bank v. Cobb, a bank was unsuccessful in fighting a motion for summary judgment against the bank where it argued that its liability was limited to the time from when the vice president and chief operating officer responded to writs of garnishment. 56 So.3d 80, 81 (Fla. App. 2011). The 2nd District Court of Appeals of Florida held that because the bank cannot represent itself pro se, the bank's liability continued until the time the bank's counsel submitted answers on its behalf. Id.  Such a limitation on the use of non-attorneys by companies for representation in court is not a violation of due process because due process does not extend to permit corporations to practice law in its own name or through its officials. Nicholson Supply Co. v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n of Hardee Cnty., 184 So.2d 438, 440 (Fla. 2d DCA 1966); see also Pomales v. Aklipse Asset Mgmt., Inc., 336 So.3d 785, 786 (Fla. App. 2022), where a corporation was denied a voluntary dismissal because Aklipse requested dismissal without prejudice with a letter that was signed by a corporate representative and not by a lawyer. However, despite the due process limitation for businesses representing themselves, in small claims cases the State of Florida allows any principal of the business or any employee with a written authorization of a principal officer to represent the business entity at any stage of the proceedings. Fla.Sm.Cl.R. Rule 7.050(a)(2). This means that businesses may be represented by their principals or by employees with written authorizations of a principal officer in cases where the case or controversy does not exceed $8,000, exclusive of interests, attorney's fees, and costs. Fla.Sm.Cl.R. Rule 7.010(b).

2. Language Barriers in Litigation. In Miami, due to the number of people whose primary language is Spanish, Portuguese or French, businesses may be surprised at the additional costs of court-certified translators for preparing and introducing evidence for trials. If a business is engaged in cross-border transactions, much of the evidence in a trial may be in a foreign language, but such evidence cannot be introduced at court if it is not translated to the English language.  See Diaz v. Bell Microprods.-Future Tech, Inc., 43 So.3d 138, 140 (Fla. App. 2010), stating that pleadings are required to be in the English language. See also Perez–Sovias v. State, 95 So.3d 327 , 332(Fla. App. 2012), citing Article II, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution, which provides that "English is the official language of the State of Florida.” When it comes to litigants in civil trials, the Courts must appoint certified interpreters for litigants who are unable to communicate and understand the English language. Fla.R.Jud.Admin. 2.560(b). In trials, judges shall mandate the use of interpreters for witnesses that cannot hear or understand the English language or cannot express himself/herself in English sufficiently to be understood Fla.R.Jud.Admin. 2.560(c) and §90.606, Fla.Stat. (2022).

3. Access to Justice.  It is probably self-evident that the legal system is squared in favor of those with the monetary resources to fight in court. Most people do not have the ability to pay attorney fees. For this reason, many give up the fight early in the litigation, or are simply left without representation and lose their property or rights. Lawyers have to be creative in helping the underrepresented. It is common practice for certain types of cases, such as personal injury and workers' compensation cases, to be done on a contingency basis, so that the client only pays if the attorneys win a recovery. However, in other types of cases such as business disputes, legal representation must usually be paid for in advance by the clients, whether or not they win the case. Even companies with resources are sometimes pressured by the costs of litigation. On occasion I have arranged with my clients to pay me under a payment plan. Others pay with credit cards. Those who cannot afford lawyers may find themselves unable to litigate. 

Jurista International Studios® can represent you in cases related to business disputes in Florida. We have represented companies, employees, and/or entrepreneurs in lawsuits related to the rental of commercial properties, loans for the sale of businesses, wage claims, probate, and consumer bankruptcies. If you have a case, be it business transaction or a business dispute, please contact our firm to see how we can help.

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