Sweeping changes to Florida’s tort laws went into effect on March 24, 2023, when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 837 into law. Although touted as an effort to reduce frivolous lawsuits, Florida's tort reform bill shields businesses, insurance companies, and property owners from personal injury liability.
The changes greatly affect injured victims’ ability to obtain compensation from those responsible for their injuries. The changes also affect how much compensation victims can receive, attorney fees, and other important areas related to personal injury law.
The following article addresses these recent changes and spells out what you need to know about Florida's tort reform bill. For a detailed explanation involving your personal injury case, contact an experienced Florida personal injury attorney.
What is Florida’s New Statute of Limitations?
HB 837 essentially cut Florida’s statute of limitations for filing general negligence lawsuits in half. Previously, Florida allowed injured victims four years to file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. Now, victims have only two years.
The change applies to all general negligence claims, such as those arising from motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall accidents, dog bites, and similar incidents. Florida’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice and wrongful death has always been two years.
The change does not apply to actions before March 24, only those afterward. Regardless, anticipation of the change sparked a massive influx of new personal injury lawsuit filings, creating a significant backlog in the courts.
The law does provide exceptions in certain cases, such as for military servicemembers who cannot appear in court due to serving duty. An attorney can review your case and determine if any exceptions apply to you.
What is Florida’s New Comparative Negligence Standard?
Before March 24, 2023, Florida followed a pure comparative negligence rule. This allowed injured victims to recover some compensation even if they mostly caused their injuries.
Now, Florida follows a modified comparative negligence rule. Victims cannot recover compensation if they are more than 50 percent responsible for causing their injuries. The new rule does not apply to personal injury and wrongful death resulting from medical negligence.
HB 837 Limits Admissible Evidence for Medical Damages
Medical damages typically form a substantial part of a personal injury or wrongful death claim. The new law creates considerable—and often confusing—changes to what evidence plaintiffs can submit as proof to recover medical damages.
Before, courts allowed plaintiffs to enter evidence for the total amount of their medical bills. Now, plaintiffs may only submit evidence showing the amount actually paid for medical care no matter who paid it. The court no longer allows initial billed amounts.
For past unpaid medical bills, the admissibility of evidence will depend on the plaintiff’s health coverage. Plaintiffs with private health insurance (not Medicaid/Medicare) must enter the amount the insurer must pay under the policy, plus the plaintiff’s share of medical expenses.
If the plaintiff has no health insurance or has coverage through Medicare/Medicaid, the court will calculate damages at 120 percent of the Medicare rate, or 170 percent of the Medicaid rate if no Medicare rate is available.
For future medical expenses, plaintiffs may only submit the amount their insurer would pay, plus the plaintiff’s share. For those with Medicare/Medicaid coverage, the same percentages from above will apply.
HB 837 also addressed Letters of Protection (LOP). Some plaintiffs receive medical care through a LOP, where the participating physician provides medical services with the promise of receiving their fees later from the plaintiff’s settlement or judgment.
Plaintiffs who get medical care through an LOP may only submit the amount their insurer would pay for the services. Plaintiffs who use LOPs must also submit a copy of the LOP along with an itemized and coded bill that details the services and care they received. If their provider uses a third party to handle the bill, the plaintiff may only submit the amount the third party agreed to pay the provider for the right to receive payment.
Plaintiffs must also disclose whether their attorney or a third party referred them to the LOP, and their lawyer must disclose what, if any, financial relationship their firm has with the provider.
What Are the New Liability Requirements for Owners of Multi-Family Properties?
Florida’s new tort reform revised the way courts decide negligent security claims. The law creates a presumption against liability for those who own or operate multi-family residential properties like apartments and condos.
For instance, if a person suffered injuries because of a third party’s criminal actions, and that party was not employed by the property owner, a court must consider how much responsibility all parties bear for the victim’s injuries.
Additionally, multi-family property owners may reduce or absolve their liability if they implement certain safety and security measures.
- Installing security camera systems at every entrance and exit and maintaining recorded footage for at least 30 days
- Providing adequate lighting in the parking lot, walkways, and other common areas from dusk to dawn
- Installing one-inch deadbolt locks on each unit’s door
- Installing locks on windows and sliding doors where applicable
- Installing locked gates and fences around pools
- Adding peepholes or viewers on unit doors that have no windows
If you or a loved one suffered injuries from a criminal act at your apartment complex or some other property, contact a personal injury attorney today for advice on your options.
How Does Tort Reform Protect Insurers from Bad Faith Claims?
Many insurance companies notoriously refuse to pay claims or offer only lowball settlements. Personal injury attorneys throughout Florida often negotiate with insurers to get higher settlements, or they may take insurers to court who refuse to make good on a claim.
Under Florida’s new tort laws, plaintiffs can no longer bring bad faith claims against insurers if the insurer tenders the lesser of the policy limits or the amount the plaintiff demanded within 90 days of receiving actual notice of the claim and sufficient evidence. If the insurer fails to tender within 90 days, the statute of limitations for bringing a bad faith claim will extend another 90 days.
Plaintiffs cannot use mere negligence as proof of bad faith. Also, if the case goes to trial, plaintiffs cannot mention the existence of the law to prove bad faith.
The changes also affect competing claims involving two or more claimants arising from the same action. According to the current law, insurers do not act in bad faith if they fail to tender within 90 days if the total amount of damages exceeds policy limits.
Claimants and their representatives must act in good faith regarding discovery and disclosure, and when making or settling a claim. The court may reduce damages appropriately for claimants who do not act in good faith.
How Does Florida's Tort Reform Bill Affect Attorneys Fees?
The new law creates a rebuttable presumption that lodestar attorney fees are sufficient and reasonable. The lodestar fee is the attorney’s reasonable fee multiplied by the amount of time they worked on the case. The law allows certain exceptions in rare and unusual circumstances, such as if a plaintiff could not otherwise retain legal counsel.
Another exception is when a court renders a declaratory action, although this does not apply in commercial and residential property cases.
The new law also prohibits assigning or transferring attorney fees. The revisions have major impacts on areas like awarding costs and attorney fees as well as attorney fees in surplus lines of insurance/insurers situations, among others.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer in Florida for Help
Florida’s new tort reform set out to protect businesses and insurers, but it makes it more difficult for injured Floridians to hold negligent parties liable for the injuries they caused.
But hope is not lost. You still have options for obtaining the compensation you need after someone injured you or a loved one through their negligence or wrongdoing. Contact Nicoletti Accident Injury Lawyers for a free review of your case and advice on how these changes apply to you. We can help you get the compensation you deserve.