Tort Reform Has Come To Florida
How will the new law affect a personal injury case in Florida?
Florida’s new sweeping tort reform bill went into effect when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 837 into law on March 24, 2023.
The new law aims to reduce the number of so-called frivolous lawsuits. In reality, HB 837 just shields businesses and insurance companies from legitimate lawsuits.
The new tort reform law in Florida makes it more difficult for injured victims to file lawsuits against those who hurt them. Florida’s tort reform law also limits the compensation victims can recover from a personal injury.
The following guide gives a closer look at what every Floridian needs to know about Florida’s New Tort Reform Law.
HB 837 Reduces the Statute of Limitations for Negligence Cases
DeSantis’s signature on HB 837 cut Florida’s four-year statute of limitations for filing a negligence claim in half. In other words, Floridians now have just two years to file a personal injury lawsuit instead of four years.
For example, people who are victims of car or truck accidents, slip and fall accidents, dog bites, and so on, must file for a cause of action against the person who harmed them within two years or lose the right to sue for compensation.
The law makes some exceptions, such as for service members who cannot appear and participate in court while on active duty. Talk with a Florida personal injury lawyer who can review your accident to determine whether exceptions apply to your case.
HB 837 Modifies Florida’s Comparative Negligence Standard
Under the general rule of comparative negligence, a person’s percentage of fault reduces the amount of damages they can collect. Before March 24, 2023, Florida followed the pure comparative negligence rule, which allowed Floridians to recover some compensation regardless of their percentage of fault. However, how much they collected would depend on their percentage of fault.
Now, the state follows a modified comparative negligence rule, which means residents cannot recover any damages if they bear more than 50 percent of the fault for the injuries.
This new standard applies to personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits but not medical malpractice cases.
HB 837 Limits Admissible Evidence for Medical Expenses
Medical expenses form a significant part of a personal injury or wrongful death claim. The new law makes an interesting and rather confusing change to what evidence plaintiffs can use to establish past and future medical expenses in these actions.
Previously, plaintiffs could offer as evidence for past medical expenses the total amount of medical bills doctors charged them for services. But the new tort reform law limits them to evidence showing the amount paid for services regardless of the payment source.
The admissibility of evidence to prove past unpaid medical bills depends on the health care coverage the plaintiff has. For those with independent health insurance, the law limits admissible evidence to the amount the insurer must pay.
If the plaintiff does not have health insurance, the court will use 120 percent of the Medicare reimbursement rate in effect when the provider rendered services. The court will use 170 percent of the Medicaid rate absent a Medicare rate.
Some plaintiffs fund their medical care through a letter of protection, an agreement between the attorney and the plaintiff’s medical provider that promises payment for services provided to the plaintiff out of the settlement.
When a plaintiff uses a letter of protection instead of their health insurance coverage, the only admissible evidence of medical expenses is what the plaintiff’s insurance company would pay for their services.
If a plaintiff uses a letter of protection and their provider uses a third party to handle the medical bill, the law only allows the amount the third party agreed to pay the provider for the right to receive payment as evidence.
For future medical expenses, the only admissible evidence is the amount the plaintiff’s healthcare coverage would pay, plus the plaintiff’s share. For plaintiffs without health insurance, if Medicare or Medicaid applies, the same percentages that apply to past expenses would apply to future ones.
How Does the New Tort Reform Law Affect Liability for Apartment Complex Owners?
Owners of commercial and business properties should know about any hazards and safety risks to guests, tenants, and customers.
If a criminal injures someone on a property due to the property owner’s negligence, a victim has grounds to seek compensation for their injuries from the property owner through a negligent security claim.
Florida’s new tort reform protects owners and operators of multi-family residential properties from liability. If owners of apartment complexes, condos, and townhomes implement certain security measures on their property, it will make it harder for injured victims to bring a lawsuit against the property owner. This presumption against liability only applies if the criminal is not an employee.
The security measures include:
- Adding a security camera facing every entrance and exit with at least 30 days of recording footage
- Lighting the parking lot lighted from dusk to dawn
- Adding a one-inch deadbolt in every unit door
- Adding a locking device on each window, exterior sliding doors, and other doors not used for community purposes
- Having locked gates on fences surrounding pool areas
- Adding a peephole or viewer on each unit door that does not have a window or is not next to a window
HB 837 Shields Insurers From Bad Faith Claims
Insurance companies notoriously lowball victims on their accident claims. Personal injury attorneys representing accident victims negotiate with insurance companies for fair settlements. If an insurer reneges on its obligation to clients by either refusing to pay a policyholder’s legitimate claim or by not processing it within a reasonable time, the policyholder could have grounds to file a bad faith claim against the insurer.
But under Florida’s new tort reform law, the policyholder cannot bring a claim of bad faith if the insurer tenders the policy limits or the amount demanded within 90 days of receiving notice of the claim and sufficient supporting documents.
If the insurer doesn’t tender the policy limits or the demanded sum within 90 days, the law extends the statute of limitations to bring a bad faith claim by 90 days. Mere negligence on the insurer’s part will no longer prove bad faith.
Finally, if the insurer doesn’t tender the amount requested and the case goes to trial, neither party can mention the existence of the law in a bad faith claim.
How Does Florida’s New Tort Law Change Attorney’s Fees?
Florida’s new tort reform package also limits awarding attorneys’ fees multipliers to rare and unusual circumstances. The new law makes a strong presumption that the lodestar fee—the number of reasonable hours spent on a case multiplied by an attorney’s reasonable hourly rate—is both sufficient and reasonable. To prove an exceptional circumstance, an attorney must show evidence that another competent lawyer would not otherwise take the case.
Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at Lucas, Macyszyn & Dyer Law Firm
Florida’s new tort reform law significantly changes the landscape for accident and injury litigation. The Florida legislature’s intent to reduce lawsuits only protects businesses and insurance companies.
More than ever, injured people will need the help of an experienced personal injury lawyer to help them achieve justice. We know how difficult it was for injured Floridians to hold negligent parties responsible prior to the passing of this law. Now that this new tort reform law has passed, it will be even more of a challenge to get a fair and full compensation.
Don’t lose hope. The Florida personal injury lawyers at Lucas, Macyszyn, & Dyer Injury Firm provide clients with personalized attention and detail in all their insurance claims and lawsuits. Our goal is to get you the maximum compensation for your claim. With law offices in New Port, Richey, Tarpon Springs, Spring Hill, Wesley Chapel, and Inverness, our personal injury lawyers have you covered. Contact us today for a free consultation and case evaluation.