Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a major tort reform bill into law on March 24, 2023. The bill, HB837, revised or amended many Florida statutes dealing with personal injury law and the civil judicial system. The changes went into effect immediately upon signing and protect businesses, property owners, and corporations from paying damages in personal injury lawsuits.
HB837 will have considerable impacts on personal injury lawsuits, insurance providers, attorney fees, and more. The following article explains some of the major changes and what they could mean for you.
For more information and a detailed explanation as it pertains to your personal injury claim, contact an experienced Florida personal injury attorney today.
Two-Year Statute of Limitations
One of the most important changes is HB837 shortened the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. Previously, Florida allowed personal injury victims four years to file a lawsuit. However, the revised law allows you only two years. This timeframe falls in line with Florida’s statute of limitations for wrongful death and medical malpractice. It also provides exceptions for military servicemembers who cannot attend court due to serving overseas.
Although the change went into effect on March 24, 2023, the new statute only applies to accidents and other “causes of action” that occur after that date. The changes should not affect the causes of action and insurance contracts entered before the changes took place.
Regardless, the proposed change caused a spate of personal injury lawsuit filings throughout Florida, and courts are already seeing considerable delays in processing new filings.
Premises Liability Lawsuits
The new law also revised how courts adjudicate premises liability claims when the plaintiff legally entered a premises and sustained injury due to a criminal act perpetrated by a third party who had no connection to the property. Additionally, the changes provide a presumption against liability for those who own multi-family residential properties if a plaintiff suffered harm because of a third party’s criminal action and the property owner had implemented certain safety and security measures.
Courts must consider the fault of all people involved, and the changes greatly reduce the instances where a property owner could bear liability for a plaintiff’s injuries in certain cases.
Modified Comparative Negligence
Prior to the new changes, Florida used a pure comparative negligence rule for determining damages in a personal injury case. Plaintiffs could recover damages even if they contributed to their injuries. For example, if a plaintiff was 70 percent responsible, they could still recover 30 percent of their damages from the defendant.
After the change, Florida adopted a modified comparative negligence rule. Now, plaintiffs may only recover damages if they are no more than 50 percent at fault. If the courts determine a plaintiff was 51 percent at fault, they cannot recover compensation. The modified comparative fault rule does not apply to medical malpractice.
One-Way Attorney Fees and Fee Multipliers
Until recently, courts allowed attorneys to adjust their fees using various measures. The changes eliminate one-way attorney fees, and asserts lodestar attorney fees as sufficient for recovery.
Lodestar attorney fees refer to the number of reasonable hours an attorney spent on the case multiplied by their reasonable attorney fees.
Although the new changes seek to reduce “the burden of excessive and predatory litigation” and “disincentivize frivolous lawsuits,” the law offers exceptions in “rare and exceptional circumstances,” such as if the plaintiff could not otherwise retain competent counsel. Also, the bill allows for one-way attorney fees in insurance cases involving declaratory judgment actions, except for residential or commercial insurance declaration actions.
The bill’s proponents hope to see a decline in lawsuits filed by insureds and beneficiaries since insureds will now be responsible for their own attorney fees. Fewer lawyers might take on good but risky or complex cases. Fees cannot be transferred to someone other than the insured or beneficiary.
Bad Faith Claims
Another major change with HB837 is that insurance providers can avoid bad-faith actions involving liability claims if the insurer tenders policy limits or the amount the plaintiff demanded within 90 days of receiving actual notice of the claim. If an insurer fails to tender payment within 90 days, it is not bad faith and inadmissible in a bad faith action if the case goes to trial.
Other items to consider regarding bad faith:
- The statute of limitations will extend for an additional 90 days if the insurer does not tender within the first 90 days.
- Mere negligence alone does not constitute bad faith.
- Claimants, insureds, and their counsel must act in good faith in making a claim, settling a claim, or providing information and evidence regarding a claim.
- If plaintiffs and their counsel do not act in good faith, the court may reduce damages accordingly.
In cases involving two or more claimants with competing claims arising from the same action, the insurer does not commit bad faith by failing to tender within 90 days if the total amount exceeds the policy limits. The bill allows insurers to file an interpleader action or follow arbitration procedures the bill outlines.
HB837 also revised how parties calculate medical damages and the evidence a court can admit. Now, for past medical bills already paid, plaintiffs may only enter the amount actually paid, regardless of who paid it. Plaintiffs can no longer submit initial billed amounts.
For unpaid past medical bills, plaintiffs can use any evidence to support their claim for damages, but any usual and customary damage amounts will depend on their healthcare coverage.
The new law also addresses Letters of Protection (LOP), which allow patients to receive medical treatment with no upfront costs. A participating physician will provide medical treatment under a LOP with the understanding they will receive payment from a judgment or settlement later. Proponents of the bill have long suspected doctors use LOPs to inflate treatment costs. Under the new law, plaintiffs with health insurance must show what their insurance would have paid for treatment by submitting itemized bills. They must also assert whether their attorney or another party referred them to LOP treatment.
If a plaintiff lacks health insurance or receives Medicare or Medicaid, the law limits their reasonable costs of treatment to 120 percent of the Medicare rate or 170 percent of the Medicaid rate.
To recover future medical expenses, plaintiffs with health insurance other than Medicare/Medicaid must provide the amount their insurance would pay for future services. The same percentages above apply to plaintiffs with Medicare/Medicaid. Plaintiffs may also admit evidence of reasonable future medical care amounts for any necessary medical care they will need.
Speak With a Florida Personal Injury Lawyer
HB837 is a sweeping tort reform bill that will affect many aspects of personal injury lawsuits and victims’ chances of obtaining compensation, and it created many more changes than those listed above.
If you suffered injuries because of someone’s negligent or careless actions, you can speak with an experienced Florida personal injury attorney at The Fernandez Firm for free. We will review your case and provide a detailed explanation of how these changes may affect your chances of getting the compensation you deserve.