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15 May 2023

Florida New Tort Reform: What You Need to Know

by James Holliday, posted in Personal Injury
Personal Injury Lawyer in Brooksville, Florida area

On March 24, 2023, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 837 into law. The new tort reform package, which went into effect immediately upon signing, will significantly reduce the ability of Florida residents to file civil lawsuits and collect damages for personal injuries. It also includes various measures designed to protect insurance companies from liability in certain situations.

It is crucial to seek the advice of experienced attorneys who specialize in personal injury cases. With the changes brought about by the new law, it is even more important to have knowledgeable and skilled personal injury attorney on your side.

Here’s an overview of what the new law brings and how it will affect Floridians:

Reduces the Statute of Limitations for General Negligence Cases

HB 837 amends the section of the Florida Statutes, which sets the statute of limitations for various causes of action, to reduce the statute of limitations for general negligence claims from four years to two.

One common example of general negligence includes the negligent operation of a vehicle that leads to a car accident. So, if someone injured in a car accident wants to seek compensation for their injuries from the other driver, they now have only two years to file a lawsuit instead of the previous four.

Some exceptions exist to the two-year statute of limitations, such as servicemembers who cannot appear and participate while on active duty. A Florida personal injury attorney can advise you on what deadlines affect your claim.

Modifies Comparative Negligence Standard

The bill also changes Florida’s rule on comparative negligence from pure comparative negligence to modified comparative negligence. Under the general rule of comparative negligence, an individual’s percentage of fault reduces their damages award.

Previously, under the pure comparative negligence rule, Floridians could still recover some compensation regardless of their percentage of fault. But now, under the modified comparative negligence rule, individuals cannot recover damages if they are more than 50 percent at fault for the injuries.

The new standard applies to personal injury and wrongful death claims, but not those related to medical malpractice.

Limits Medical Expenses in Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Actions

HB 837 also limits the evidence plaintiffs can use to establish past and future medical expenses in personal injury or wrongful death actions.

Past Medical Expenses

Previously, plaintiffs could offer the total amount of medical bills charged for services as evidence of their damages for past medical expenses. Now, plaintiffs can only present evidence showing the amount actually paid for those services, regardless of the payment source.

The admissibility of evidence to prove the amount of past unpaid medical bills now depends on the the plaintiff’s health care coverage.

  • If a plaintiff has health insurance, the court will only admit as evidence the amount their health insurance provider must pay (other than Medicare or Medicaid).
  • If a plaintiff has health insurance coverage but chooses instead to fund their medical care through a letter of protection (an arrangement between the attorney and the plaintiff’s doctor that promises payment for services rendered out of any settlement), then the court will only admit the amount the insurance coverage would reimburse the plaintiff for their injuries.
  • If the plaintiff does not have independent health insurance, they may use 120 percent of the Medicare reimbursement rate in effect when the doctor rendered services. Absent a Medicare rate, the plaintiff may use 170 percent of the Medicaid rate.
  • And, if a plaintiff receives services under a letter of protection and the provider assigns the medical bill to a third party, the court will only accept as evidence the amount the third party agreed to pay the provider for the right to receive payment.

Future Medical Expenses

If a plaintiff has healthcare coverage or qualifies for coverage other than Medicare or Medicaid, the court will only admit as evidence of the future charges the amount the healthcare provider would pay, plus the plaintiff’s share.

If the plaintiff has no health insurance or if Medicare or Medicaid applies, the same percentages for past expenses apply to future expected costs.

Establishes New Negligent Security Liability Requirements for Owners/Operators of Multi-Family Properties

Negligent security cases typically presume that owners of commercial properties know more about the safety and danger to guests than the customers or tenants do. When someone is a victim of an assault, robbery, or other attack, negligent security lawsuits allow those victims to seek damages against the property owner or operator for their negligence in not providing adequate security or safety measures.

HB 837 creates a presumption against liability for owners or operators of multi-family residential properties such as apartments, townhomes, or condominiums if they implement specific security measures on their property, provided the criminal actor does not work as an employee or owner/operator.

These security measures include:

  • A security camera facing every entrance and exit with at least 30 days of recording footage
  • A parking lot lighted from dusk to dawn
  • A one-inch deadbolt in every unit door
  • A locking device on each window, exterior sliding doors, and other doors not used for community purposes
  • Locked gates on fences surrounding pool areas
  • A peephole or viewer on each unit door that does not have a window or is not next to a window

Provides Insurers a Safe Harbor From Bad Faith Claims

If an insurance company reneges on its obligations to clients, either by refusing to pay a policyholder’s legitimate claim or not investigating and processing their claim within a reasonable period, the policyholder could bring an action of bad faith against the insurance company.

But now, under HB 837, the insurer can avoid a bad faith claim if it tenders the lesser of the policy limits or amount demanded within 90 days of receiving notice of the claim and sufficient evidence to support the amount demanded. If the insurer  won’t tendered the amount requested or the insurance minimum, and the case goes to trial, no parties can mention the existence of the law in an action of bad faith.

Further, if the insurer does not tender the policy limits or demanded amount within 90 days, the statute of limitations to bring a bad faith claim extends by 90 days.

The court may also consider whether the claimant and their representatives bringing the claim acted in good faith—such as by providing information, setting deadlines, and attempting to settle the case—and may reduce the amount of damages awarded if they see fit.

Finally, mere negligence on the insurer’s part cannot prove bad faith.

Creates a New Lodestar Attorney Fee Presumption

Prior to HB 837, Florida law allowed courts to consider and award contingency fee multipliers to attorneys’ fees, based on various factors. Now, there the 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 sufficient and reasonable.

The law only makes exceptions  for rare and exceptional circumstances. For example, to prove an exceptional circumstance, the attorney must show evidence that competent counsel could not otherwise be retained.

Contact Holliday Karatinos Law Firm’s Personal Injury Lawyers

The new Florida tort reform law will have a significant impact on Florida residents’ ability to negotiate fair claims with insurance companies and collect damages for personal injuries through civil actions.

But, these challenges don’t discourage the personal injury lawyers at Holliday Karatinos Law Firm.

We have more than 50 years of combined legal experience representing accident victims and getting them the compensation they need and deserve. At Holliday Karatinos Law Firm, our clients get the personalized attention of a small firm with the experience and resources to take on any case, no matter the size. Contact us today for a free consultation and case evaluation.

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation Today!

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