Reports | May 19, 2023 | Personal Injury
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 837 into law on March 24, 2023, ushering in major changes to Florida’s tort laws. The new law created many revisions to key areas of personal injury law and seeks to protect businesses, property owners, and insurance carriers from “frivolous lawsuits.” However, the revisions make it harder for injured victims to bring civil actions against those responsible for their injuries, and it affects how much compensation a plaintiff may receive.
Florida’s new tort reform also addresses attorney fees, bad faith claims, and more. The changes went into effect immediately after DeSantis signed the bill.
We explain some of the important changes and how they could affect your chances of obtaining compensation. For a detailed explanation regarding your case, reach out to an experienced Florida personal injury attorney for assistance.
Changed Statute of Limitations to Two Years
Before the changes, Florida allowed injured victims four years to file personal injury lawsuits in civil court for most general negligence claims. Now, Florida allows only two years for all claims involving general negligence, such as car accidents, truck accidents, slip and fall accidents, and other similar incidents. The statute of limitations for wrongful death and medical malpractice was previously two years and remains the same.
The two-year statute of limitations does not apply to actions entered before March 24, only to actions that accrued after that date. Nevertheless, anticipation of the proposed changes caused a massive rush to personal injury filings and created a considerable court backlog.
Despite the changes, the law offers certain exceptions, such as if military servicemembers cannot attend court due to serving active duty. Hire an attorney to review your case immediately and advise you of your options on when you should file.
Modified Florida’s Comparative Negligence Standard
Previously, Florida followed a pure comparative negligence model when determining damages in a personal injury case. Plaintiffs could recover some compensation for their injuries even if they were 99 percent at fault.
Florida now follows a modified comparative negligence rule. If the defendant is 100 percent responsible, a plaintiff may recover the full amount of damages. If the defendant and plaintiff are equally responsible, the plaintiff may only receive 50 percent of the damages. However, if a plaintiff bears more than 50 percent responsibility for causing their injuries, they cannot recover any compensation.
The modified comparative negligence rule does not apply to personal injury or wrongful death claims arising from medical negligence.
Established New Liability Requirements and Protections for Multi-Family Property Owners
The new law addressed premises liability claims involving negligent security. The current legislation now creates a presumption against liability for multi-family residential property owners if a plaintiff suffered injuries from a third party’s criminal act and the property owner did not employ the third party.
Additionally, multi-family dwelling owners may reduce or absolve their liability if they implement certain security and safety measures, including:
- Placing security cameras at every entrance or exit to the property and keeping recorded footage for at least 30 days
- Ensuring common areas around the property have adequate lighting from dusk to dawn, such as parking lots, walkways, and gathering places
- Installing one-inch deadbolt locks on every unit’s main doors
- Placing locks on windows and sliding doors on units where appropriate
- Installing peepholes or viewers in unit doors that have no windows or are not next to a window
- Placing locked gates and fences around pool areas
Property owners must also comply with certain crime prevention and environmental design assessments as dictated by law enforcement by Jan. 1, 2025, and train property employees on proper safety and crime deterrence practices.
Limited Admissible Evidence for Medical Damages
The most important aspect of any personal injury claim is recovering medical damages from those responsible for your injuries. Florida’s new tort reform creates substantial, often confusing changes to the evidence plaintiffs may submit as proof of damages.
Previously, Florida allowed plaintiffs to submit the total amount of medical bills they received to recover past paid medical bills. Now, plaintiffs must submit evidence showing only the amount that was actually paid, regardless of who paid it. Courts will no longer allow initial billed amounts as evidence.
Other important changes regarding past and future medical expenses:
- Past unpaid medical bills. The evidence plaintiffs may submit depends on their healthcare coverage. Plaintiffs with private health insurance (not Medicaid/Medicare) may only submit the amount the insurer must pay under the policy, plus the plaintiff’s portion of the expenses. If the plaintiff does not have health insurance or coverage through Medicare/Medicaid, the court will determine damages at 120 percent of the Medicare rate, or 170 percent of the Medicaid rate if no applicable Medicare rate exists.
- Future medical expenses. Courts will now only allow plaintiffs to enter the amount their insurer would pay, plus the plaintiff’s share. The same Medicare/Medicaid percentages from above will apply if either entity covers the plaintiff.
Letters of Protection
Many injured victims receive medical care through a letter of protection (LOP). A LOP is an agreement between a healthcare provider and a patient where the provider provides medical care with the promise the patient will pay them for their services out of any court award or settlement the patient receives from their injury claim.
For both personal injury and wrongful death actions, plaintiffs who receive medical care through an LOP or similar agreement may only submit the amount an insurer would pay for treatment and services in addition to co-pays, deductibles, and other expenses that plaintiffs must pay. LOP plaintiffs must submit a copy of the LOP or agreement and a coded and itemized bill that lists the care and services they received.
If the provider sells the patient’s accounts receivable to a third party, the provider must submit the name of the third party along with the dollar amount of the sale and any invoice discounts.
A plaintiff must also assert whether their attorney or a third party referred them to the LOP provider. Attorneys also have to disclose any financial relationship they or their firm have with the provider, if applicable.
Addressed Attorney Fees
Before the new legislation, Florida courts allowed attorneys to set their fees using various criteria. The law now provides a strong but rebuttable presumption that lodestar attorney fees are reasonable and sufficient for compensation. A lodestar fee is the attorney’s reasonable fee multiplied by the amount of time they spent working on a case.
The new law essentially eliminates contingency fee multipliers and reduces the award for attorney fees. This can hurt injured victims seeking to retain counsel for their personal injury cases. However, the law also offers exceptions in “rare and unusual” circumstances. One such circumstance is if the plaintiff could not otherwise secure competent counsel—another is if the court renders a declaratory action. The latter does not apply to cases involving residential or commercial properties.
Additionally, the new legislation prohibits transferring or assigning attorney fees, and it also addresses attorney fees in surplus lines of insurance situations, among others.
Protected Insurers from Bad Faith Claims
Insurance companies have a bad reputation for unjustly denying claims or delaying payment on claims. Most personal injury attorneys throughout Florida fight hard to hold insurance companies accountable to get their clients the compensation they need and deserve. One common recourse personal injury lawyers use against insurers who refuse to make good on a claim is to file a bad faith action.
Florida’s new tort laws severely restrict a plaintiff’s ability to bring bad faith actions 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, a plaintiff cannot bring a bad faith action against them.
- If the insurer does not tender within 90 days, the statute of limitations for bringing a bad faith claim will extend another 90 days.
- Plaintiffs cannot use mere negligence to prove bad faith. If the case goes to trial, plaintiffs may not mention the existence of the law to support their claim of bad faith.
- Plaintiffs and their counsel must act in good faith when initiating and settling claims and throughout the discovery process. If the court finds a plaintiff did not act in good faith, they can reduce their damages accordingly.
The revisions also affected competing claims where two or more parties have claims arising from the same action. If the total amount of damages exceeds policy limits, plaintiffs cannot bring bad faith actions against insurers that do not tender within 90 days.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer for Help
Florida’s new tort reform offers protections to certain defendants, but it creates major challenges to plaintiffs in seeking recovery for their injuries someone else caused. You rightfully have concerns about how the new legislation may affect your ability to obtain compensation, but do not lose hope.
You have options for getting the compensation you need, but you need an attorney to review your case and explain your rights and options. For help, contact Steven A. Bagen & Associates, P.A. today to get your free consultation.