Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 837 into law on March 24, 2023, which significantly changed the state’s civil litigation landscape. The new tort reform aims to cut down on so-called frivolous lawsuits.
Unfortunately, the changes make it difficult for accident victims to hold those who harmed them accountable through personal injury claims.
The new law also limits the compensation victims can recover when they do file a claim and provides protections to businesses and insurance companies from lawsuits and claims of bad faith.
In light of these changes, it is crucial for Florida residents to seek the advice of a Vero Beach personal injury lawyer who can navigate and guide them through the maze of the new laws and maximize their chances of fair compensation.
How Does Florida’s New Tort Reform Hurt Floridians?
It Slashes the Deadline for Filing General Negligence Claims in Half
General negligence refers to circumstances in which a person or party fails to use reasonable care to avoid foreseeable harm to another person or property. Examples of accidents often caused by another’s negligence include auto, slip and fall, rideshare, and boat accidents.
Florida used to have a four-year statute of limitations for filing general negligence claims. The signing of HB 837 essentially cut that number in half. Floridians now have just two years from the accident or incident to file a claim seeking compensation from the negligent party.
Florida’s statute of limitations makes some exceptions. If you have questions about whether the circumstances surrounding your accident fall within the state’s new deadline, talk with a Florida personal injury attorney.
It Modifies Florida’s Comparative Negligence Rule
Comparative negligence reduces the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover in an accident based on their percentage of fault.
Prior to the signing of HB 837, Florida followed a pure comparative negligence rule, which allowed residents involved in accidents to recover some compensation in an accident regardless of their level of fault.
As of March 24, 2023, Florida follows a modified comparative negligence rule. Under this rule, residents with more than 50 percent of the fault for their injuries cannot collect any compensation.
All personal injury and wrongful death claims will follow this standard unless they involve medical malpractice claims.
HB 837 Limits Plaintiffs’ Admissible Evidence for Medical Expenses
Some accidents resulting in personal injuries can require extensive medical treatments, leading to pricey medical bills. Florida’s tort reform package cuts away at the evidence accident victims can show as evidence to prove medical expenses.
Before DeSantis signed HB 837, plaintiffs could bring as evidence of past medical expenses the total amount their provider charged them for services. Under the tort reform law, plaintiffs can only offer the amount actually paid for services, regardless of the payment source.
Proving unpaid medical expenses is harder and based on the accident victim’s health insurance. Plaintiffs with private health insurance can only recover the amount their insurer would pay for medical services, plus their deductibles and copays.
For those without private health insurance, the court uses 120 percent of the Medicare reimbursement rate. If Medicare establishes no rate, the court uses 170 percent of the Medicaid rate.
The bill limits evidence admissible to prove future medical expenses to the amount the plaintiff’s health insurance company would pay.
For people without health insurance, or if Medicare or Medicaid apply, the court will use the same percentages as for past expenses.
The New Law Establishes New Negligent Security Liability Protections
Negligent security is a legal presumption that owners/operators of commercial and business properties know more than their guests about potential risks on their properties. Thus, they should take reasonable measures to ensure their safety on their premises.
For example, the owner of an apartment complex would know—or should know—if their complex is in a high crime area and should take measures to keep residents safe, such as installing bolt locks on all doors and lighting in parking lots.
If the apartment complex owner/operator fails to put safety measures in place and a criminal attacks someone on the property, the victim could seek compensation for damages from the apartment owner/operator.
The new law provides liability protections for owners/operators of multi-family residential units, like apartment and condo complexes, who implement certain security measures, such as:
- Adding a security camera facing every entrance and exit with at least 30 days of recording footage
- Lighting the parking lot 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
Florida Tort Reform Protects Insurers From Bad Faith Claims
Accident victims who suffer injuries or other damages caused by the negligence of another person or party often deal with insurance companies to get compensation.
Insurers make settlement offers that often fall short of the damages the victim suffered. Personal injury lawyers can negotiate with insurance companies to get accident victims full compensation for their damages.
Sometimes, an insurer will renege on their obligations to policyholders by refusing to pay their legitimate claim or not processing it in a reasonable period. When insurers refuse to play fair, the policyholder may bring a bad faith claim against the insurer.
But Florida’s tort reform law offers protects insurers against those claims. Now, policyholders may no longer bring a bad faith claim against the insurer if the insurer agrees to pay the policy limits or the amount demanded by the policyholder within 90 days of receiving notice of the claim and all the documents to support the demand.
If the insurer refuses to pay the policy limits or the demanded amount within 90 days, the statute of limitations to bring a bad faith claim extends by 90 days.
Florida Creates a New Lodestar Attorney Fee Presumption
Previously, Florida courts would consider and award contingency fee multipliers to attorneys’ fees for various reasons. But tort reform makes it more difficult for courts to consider or award multipliers to attorneys.
Instead, the law establishes a strong assumption 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 in most cases.
The court will consider exceptions to this rule but only under rare and exceptional circumstances and only after the attorney shows evidence that the plaintiff could not otherwise hire competent counsel.
The new lodestar attorney fee could discourage more experienced personal injury attorneys from taking some cases, which leaves plaintiffs to rely on less experienced legal representation.
Contact a Vero Beach Personal Injury Lawyer at Lulich & Attorneys Today
Florida’s new tort reform package makes sweeping changes to the civil litigation landscape and makes it more difficult for accident victims to get the compensation they need and deserve.
But it’s not impossible.
The personal injury lawyers at Lulich & Attorneys will continue to fight for justice for their clients in Vero Beach, Sebastian, and across Florida.
Lulich & Attorneys is one of the longest-established, full-service law firms in Indian River County. You can reach us at (772) 492-4611 in Sebastian and (772) 589-5500 in Vero Beach.
You can also use our online contact form to find out more about the new law and how it might affect your case.