Gov. Ron DeSantis’s signing of House Bill 837 on March 24, 2023, significantly changed the state’s civil litigation landscape. Architects of the law aimed to cut down on so-called frivolous lawsuits, but the actions leave accident victims in the lurch.
The changes not only make it more difficult for injured accident victims to file lawsuits against those who hurt them, but it also limits the amount of compensation they can recover when they do file. Furthermore, the new law shields businesses and insurance companies from lawsuits and claims of bad faith. Reach out to a Miami personal injury lawyer.
Here’s a closer look at how the new tort reform actions in Florida affect you, and how a lawyer can help you even in the face of the changes.
Reduces the Statute of Limitations for General Negligence Claims
The signing of HB 837 into law slashed Florida’s four-year deadline for filing general negligence claims in half. Florida residents now have two years from the date of their accident to file a personal injury lawsuit if they want to recover damages from the negligent party.
For example, if you were a victim of negligence in an auto accident, slip and fall accident, dog-bite attack, or another incident, your deadline for filing went from four years to two years on March 24, 2023, with the stroke of a pen.
There are some exceptions to the statute of limitations. Service members, for example, have more time since they cannot appear and participate in a claim while on active duty.
If you have questions about whether your accident claim falls within this new deadline, speak with a qualified Miami personal injury lawyer.
Modifies Florida’s Comparative Negligence Rule
Comparative negligence assigns fault in accidents by appropriating blame between the plaintiff and the defendant. The general rule is that the more at fault you are in an accident, the less compensation you can collect for your damages. Before HB 837 became law, Florida followed a pure comparative negligence rule that allowed residents involved in accidents to recover some compensation regardless of their percentage of fault.
With the passage of Florida’s tort reform package, the state now follows a modified comparative negligence rule, which prevents residents who are more than 50 percent at fault for the injuries from collecting any compensation.
This standard affects all personal injury and wrongful death claims except those involving medical malpractice.
Limits Plaintiffs’ Admissible Evidence for Medical Expenses
Serious and catastrophic accident injuries can require extensive medical treatment that results in massive medical bills. Florida’s new law bites into the kinds of evidence plaintiffs can offer to prove medical expenses.
Before March 24, 2023, plaintiffs could bring their total amount of medical bills as evidence of past medical expenses. Now, accident victims can only show the amount paid for services, regardless of the payment source.
Proving past unpaid medical bills gets a bit more complicated and hinges on accident victims’ health coverage. Plaintiffs with private health insurance can only collect the amount their insurer would pay for those services plus the claimant’s share of medical expenses.
If the accident victim doesn’t have health insurance, the court will use 120 percent of the Medicare reimbursement rate in effect at the time services were rendered. The court will use 170 percent of the Medicaid rate if no Medicare rate is available.
A letter of protection is like an IOU between the accident victim’s attorney and the victim’s medical provider. It promises payment for services rendered after a settlement in the plaintiff’s case. Patients who use a letter of protection instead of going through their health insurance can only offer as evidence the amount their insurance company would pay for the services rendered.
When providers use a third party to handle medical bills that fall under a letter of protection, only the amount the third party agreed to pay the provider for the right to receive payment can serve as evidence.
A court can only admit as evidence of future medical expenses the amount the plaintiff’s healthcare coverage would pay. For those who don’t have health insurance, if Medicare or Medicaid apply, then the same percentage for past expenses would apply to future expenses.
Establishes New Negligent Security Liability Protections
In negligent security claims, owners/operators of commercial and business properties should know of any issues at their property that endanger other guests than their tenants or customers.
For example, an owner/operator of an apartment complex in a dangerous neighborhood should know of and take measures to ensure the safety of tenants, such as having a well-lit parking lot and security cameras at entrances to the complex. If someone attacks a person on the property and the property owners don’t take steps to deter violent acts, the attack victim could have grounds for a negligent security claim.
The new law, however, creates a presumption against liability for owners/operators of multi-family residential properties, like apartments and condos, provided they implement 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 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
Shields Insurers from Claims of Bad Faith
If you ever suffered injuries and other damages in an accident caused by another person or party, you’ve probably dealt with insurance companies. They often make settlement offers that don’t reflect the true value of your damages. Your best bet at getting fair compensation is to hire a personal injury attorney to negotiate with the insurance companies.
Sometimes, an insurer attempts to renege on their obligation to clients by refusing to pay the policyholder’s legitimate claim or not processing it in a reasonable time. When insurers don’t budge and refuse to play fair with policyholders, policyholders may file a bad faith claim against the insurer.
That’s not necessarily the case anymore, thanks to Florida’s tort reform. The law prevents policyholders from bringing a bad faith claim if the insurer agrees to pay the lesser of 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 doesn’t 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. Negligence alone no longer provides sufficient evidence of bad faith.
If the case goes to trial, the law states that the plaintiff cannot cite the law itself in any form in a bad faith claim.
Creates a New Lodestar Attorney Fee Presumption
Before Florida tort reform, courts would consider and award contingency fee multipliers to attorneys’ fees for various reasons. The new law makes it more difficult for courts to consider or award these multipliers, establishing a strong presumption that the so-called lodestar fee (the number of reasonable hours spent on a case multiplied by an attorney’s reasonable hourly rate) is sufficient and reasonable.
Exceptions are rare and only granted if the attorney shows “evidence that competent counsel could not otherwise be retained.”
One issue with the new lodestar attorney fee presumption is that it may discourage more experienced attorneys from taking some cases, forcing plaintiffs to rely on less experienced representation.
Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at Redemption Law
Florida’s new tort reform package has effectively put roadblocks between accident victims and their right to pursue justice with a personal injury claim.
Don’t let these new tactics scare you.
Redemption Law is a personal injury law firm in the Greater Miami area dedicated to helping people who were injured or lost a loved one due to the negligence of another.
The team of legal professionals at Redemption Law aggressively pursues the maximum compensation for our clients. If you are the victim of another person’s negligent act in Miami-Dade, Broward, or elsewhere in Florida, we can help you. Contact us today for a free consultation. If we don’t recover compensation in your case, you don’t pay.