New Florida Tort Reform – What You Need To Know About HB 837
Bill Allen | May 5, 2023 | Personal Injury
The Florida Legislature passed sweeping tort reform this year. On March 24, 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 837 into law. Governor DeSantis said tort reform was necessary to prevent predatory practices by trial lawyers and reduce frivolous personal injury lawsuits.
The new law impacts the rights of personal injury victims in numerous ways. The new tort reform law shortens the statute of limitations for filing claims. It also eliminates Florida’s pure comparative negligence standard.
Below are important things you need to know about the new Florida tort reform law.
Changes to the Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits
The deadline to file most personal injury lawsuits in Florida used to be four years from the injury date. However, HB 837 reduces the statute of limitations for most negligence claims from four years to two years.
The change applies to negligence actions that accrue after March 24, 2023. Therefore, if you were injured in a car accident, slip and fall accident, or other personal injury incident caused by negligence on or after March 24, 2023, you have just two years to file a personal injury lawsuit. If your accident took place before that date, you’ll still have four years to file your claim.
Reducing the statute of limitations could negatively impact victims who sustain catastrophic injuries. It could take longer than two years to heal completely from catastrophic injuries. Until the person reaches maximum medical improvement (MMI), it is difficult to understand the full scope and extent of the harm they suffered because of another party’s negligence.
Rushing to file a personal injury lawsuit to beat the filing deadline could result in longer court cases. It could also negatively impact a party’s ability to recover compensation for future damages caused by permanent impairments and disabilities.
Eliminating the Pure Comparative Negligence Standard in Florida
Comparative negligence is the legal theory of reducing an injured party’s compensation by their level of fault for causing their injuries. States have different comparative fault laws.
Four states and the District of Columbia use the harsh contributory fault standard for personal injury cases. These jurisdictions bar an injured party from receiving compensation for a negligence claim if the party has any fault for the injury. Being 1% at fault prevents victims from recovering any money for their personal injury claim.
The remaining states use comparative negligence to assign damages when an injured party is partly to blame for causing an injury. Before tort reform, Florida used a pure comparative negligence standard. Under pure comparative negligence, a party could be 99% at fault and still recover 1% of their damages.
With comparative negligence, the injured party’s compensation is reduced by their level of fault. For example, suppose a jury finds a plaintiff was 55% to blame for causing a car accident. In that case, the plaintiff’s compensation for damages would be reduced by 55 percent, meaning they would only receive 45% of the damage award.
However, under HB 837, Florida tort law will now use a modified comparative negligence standard with a 51% bar. If an injured victim is more than 50% to blame for their injury, they are barred from receiving any money for their claim.
Therefore, in our example above, the plaintiff could not receive any of the money the jury awarded for damages because they were 55% to blame for causing the car accident. But if they were 25% to blame instead, they could still receive 75% of their damages – even after the change in the law.
Insurance companies already use comparative negligence to undervalue damages in personal injury cases. The new Florida tort law gives insurance companies and at-fault parties an additional incentive to shift blame to the victim. If they can shift enough blame to the victim, they can avoid any liability for their negligent acts.
Limiting Damages for Medical Bills for Personal Injury Claims
The law places caps on how much you can claim for medical bills in a personal injury case. Under the old standard, you could claim 100% of the total medical costs for a personal injury claim.
However, the new law restricts reimbursement for medical expenses if the injured party is uninsured. The reimbursement for medical expenses will be capped at the Medicare or Medicaid rate for uninsured individuals. However, the law does not require doctors to provide medical treatment at these rates.
The law also changes how medical evidence is admitted in court to establish past, present, and future medical expenses. Under the new law, the evidence of the expenses for medical treatment is limited to the amount actually paid. The effect is to reduce the amount an injured party receives for reimbursement of medical bills.
Restrictions on Bad Faith Lawsuits Against Insurers
The new law significantly changes the laws for bad faith claims against insurance companies. The insurance company can avoid a bad faith claim if it:
- Pays the policy limits or the amount demanded by an injured party within 90 days of receiving notice of a bad faith claim.
Additionally, negligence alone is no longer sufficient to prove bad faith.
In a bad faith action, the jury can now consider whether the insurance company, injured party, or agent acted in bad faith. For example, suppose the jury finds the injured party or their lawyer did not act in good faith to provide information, make a demand, or attempt to settle a claim. In that case, the damages awarded can be reduced.
These changes and other bad faith claim changes give insurance companies much more power to avoid bad faith claims or reduce the damages awarded
Liability of Property Owners in Some Premises Liability Cases
The new tort reform creates a presumption against liability for operators and owners of multifamily residential property when the claim is based on the criminal acts of third parties. The presumption applies if the property owner takes specific actions to implement security features on the property. Security features include, but are not limited to:
- Installing a one-inch deadbolt lock on doors into units
- Using lighting in common areas
- Installing window locks
- Placing gates around pool areas
In negligent security cases, the law also replaces joint and several liability with the new comparative negligence standard. The changes could make it more difficult for residents to recover damages for negligent security claims.
Are You Concerned About How HB 837 Impacts Your Personal Injury Claim?
The date of your injury and the facts of your case determine how HB 837 impacts your personal injury case. Other provisions of the new tort reform law could also impact your case.
The best way to protect your rights is to discuss your situation with an experienced Gainesville personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Experienced personal injury attorneys understand the laws relevant to your claim. They also know how to protect your best interests and right to receive fair compensation for a personal injury claim.
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