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Florida Passes New Tort Reform Legislation

Experts In This Article

On March 24, 2023, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 837 into law. The new legislation revised many statutes regarding personal injury law and will have far-reaching impacts on personal injury victims who seek compensation from those responsible. The changes went into effect immediately after DeSantis signed the bill.

The changes affect many areas of personal injury law, including the statute of limitations for filing lawsuits, attorney fees, bringing bad faith claims against insurers, and more. You may need to understand the changes so you know what to expect, and you certainly need a lawyer now more than ever when you find yourself injured and seeking compensation.

If you have questions about how the changes will affect your chances of recovering damages, reach out to an experienced Florida personal injury attorney for a free consultation regarding your case.

Statute of Limitations Shortened to Two Years

Florida Passes New Tort Reform LegislationAmong the most important changes HB 837 created was shortening Florida’s statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit to two years. The previous statute of limitations gave most injury claims involving negligence four years. However, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice and wrongful death claims in Florida was always two years, so the new law brings all injury claims involving negligence into the same timeframe. The bill also provides exceptions for military servicemembers who cannot attend court due to active duty service.

Although the change went into effect on March 24, 2023, the new law applies only to causes of action from after that date. The changes should not affect insurance contracts and other actions entered before then.

Still, the anticipation of the changes caused a massive influx of new personal injury lawsuit filings throughout Florida, and many civil courts are dealing with delays in processing the new filings.

Protections for Property Owners

The new law revised how courts adjudicate premises liability claims, and it offers several protections to property owners. Courts must consider the fault of all parties who contributed to a victim’s injuries if the victim was on the property legally and sustained injuries from a third party’s criminal action.

Also, the new law provides an assumption against liability for multi-family residential property owners if they implement certain safety and security measures, including:

  • Installing security cameras at entry and exit points and maintaining video footage for at least 30 days
  • Providing adequate lighting in common areas, such as parking lots, laundry rooms, and walkways
  • Installing deadbolt locks on each unit’s front door and installing window locks and sliding door locks on units where appropriate
  • Installing peepholes in front doors without windows
  • Installing locked gates and fences around pools

By January 1, 2025, multi-family property owners must also comply with crime prevention requirements and environmental design assessments as dictated by law enforcement. They must also train property employees on proper crime deterrence and safety.

Modified Comparative Negligence

Before the changes went into effect, Florida employed a pure comparative negligence model when determining damages for personal injury. Under the rule, a plaintiff could in theory recover compensation even if they were 99 percent at fault for their injuries.

Now, Florida follows a modified comparative negligence rule. However, the plaintiff’s share of damages will depend on their percentage of fault. If the defendant was 100 percent at fault, the plaintiff may recover all damages. If a plaintiff is 40 percent at fault, they can only receive 60 percent of the damages. If a plaintiff is more than 50 percent at fault, they cannot recover damages.

Florida’s new modified comparative fault model does not apply to medical malpractice claims.

Attorney Fees

The new law also establishes the lodestar fee as sufficient and reasonable compensation for attorneys in most civil actions. The lodestar fee is the number of reasonable hours an attorney spent on a case multiplied by their reasonable attorney fees, and it’s the model all federal courts follow. Previously, Florida allowed attorneys to adjust their fees using additional factors.

The revisions eliminate attorney fee awards except when a plaintiff could not otherwise secure competent counsel, or when a court rendered declaratory relief to a plaintiff because an insurer totally denied their claim. This does not apply to declaratory judgment actions involving residential or commercial properties.

Bad Faith Actions

HB 837 also changed the grounds on which plaintiffs can bring bad faith actions against insurers. Mere negligence no longer constitutes bad faith. Also, plaintiffs cannot bring bad faith claims against insurers for liability issues if the insurer pays the lesser amount of the policy limits or damages the plaintiff demanded within 90 days of receiving actual notice and sufficient evidence of the claim.

Other notable changes include:

  • If the insurer fails to pay within 90 days, this alone does not constitute bad faith and cannot constitute evidence in a bad faith action that goes to trial.
  • If the insurer does not pay within the first 90 days, the statute of limitations will extend another 90 days.
  • Claimants and their representatives must act in good faith in providing evidence and information regarding a claim and when bringing or settling a claim.
  • If claimants or their counsel act in bad faith regarding the claim, the court may reduce damages appropriately.

For competing claims involving two or more claimants arising from the same action, an insurer does not act in bad faith by not tendering damages within 90 days if the total amount of damages exceeds the policy’s limits. Insurers may file interpleader actions or attend arbitration as outlined by the bill.

Admissible Evidence for Medical Damages

The new law changed the parameters for admissible evidence to prove past, current, and future medical damages. For past paid medical bills, plaintiffs may only submit evidence for the amount actually paid, regardless of who paid it. Plaintiffs cannot enter initial billed amounts as evidence.

For past unpaid medical bills, admissible evidence will depend on the plaintiff’s healthcare coverage. If the plaintiff has health insurance other than Medicare/Medicare, they must provide the amount the insurer must pay according to the policy plus their own portion of medical expenses. If the plaintiff does not have health coverage or coverage through Medicare/Medicaid, they will submit medical damages at 120 percent of the Medicare rate or 170 percent of the Medicaid rate.

For future medical expenses, plaintiffs with private insurance (other than Medicaid/Medicare) may enter what their insurer would pay for future medical treatment or services. The same percentage amounts apply to claimants who receive Medicare/Medicaid.

For both past unpaid and future medical bills, plaintiffs may enter any medical damage evidence to support their claim, but the amount of usual and customary damages they receive will depend on their health coverage.

Additionally, the revisions addressed Letters of Protection (LOP). A LOP allows patients to receive care without upfront costs from a participating physician who agrees to provide services and care with the understanding they will receive payment from the patient’s claim settlement or court award.

Plaintiffs must now provide a copy of the LOP along with an itemized and coded bill detailing the patient’s care and treatment. The plaintiff must also include whether they have health insurance and identify their insurer. They must disclose whether their attorney or some other party referred them to the LOP physician, and their attorney must disclose the nature of any financial relationship their law firm has with the physician.

Talk to a Florida Personal Injury Attorney Today

HB 837 and other revisions to Florida’s tort laws changed the state’s civil judicial process and how many injured people will get the compensation they deserve.

Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney is here to provide a comprehensive review of your personal injury case and a detailed explanation of how HB 837 affects your chances of obtaining compensation. Contact us today if a negligent party injured you or someone you love.

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