Understanding the Impact of Florida Tort Reform Bill 837

Navigating HB-837: Unraveling the Effects of Florida Tort Reform

Man with an arm injury consults with a doctor
Learn how Florida Tort Reform Bill HB 837 may affect your case.
By Osborne & Francis
May 22, 2024

How Does Florida Tort Reform Bill HB 837 Affect Your Rights?

Sweeping Florida tort reform changes will affect personal injury litigation, especially filing deadlines. Read on to learn more about how these changes might affect your case.

In March of 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 837, “Civil Remedies,” making it an official law. HB 837 contains many broad, sweeping tort reform provisions that will drastically alter civil litigation in the state of Florida. The new changes apply to causes of action after the effective date (March 24, 2023). 

In particular, the most notable change included in HB 837 is that it reduces the statute of limitations (filing window) for Florida negligence cases from 4 years to 2 years. This means that injury victims have less time to file their lawsuits than before, emphasizing the need to take legal action quickly after an accident.

These tort changes involve other complex adjustments to areas such as insurance, evidence, attorney’s fees, and other topics. If you or a loved one were injured due to someone else’s carelessness, you may be wondering about your legal rights. Contact Osborne & Francis at (561) 293-2600 to speak to an attorney about your injury case.

Florida Tort Reform 2023: Highlights and Updates

HB 837 brings about serious changes to the Florida tort (personal injury) law landscape. Understanding all the details of these provisions can be daunting for the average person. Consulting a lawyer for advice is the best way to learn about your rights.

The following are some of the main highlights of the HB 837 changes:

Reduced Florida Statute of Limitations for Negligence Actions

HB 837 now cuts the statute of limitations for general negligence cases in half from four years to two years. The statute of limitations refers to the filing window in which an injured person can bring their legal claim. This is probably the most significant change that will affect the most cases in a broad manner.

A shorter statute of limitations will have several impacts on the overall timeline and legal process for negligence cases, which includes claims like: 

On the one hand, a shorter filing window means the plaintiff has less time to file their case. This may result in more cases being resolved earlier through pre-trial settlements. On the other hand, a shorter filing period may require injured victims to obtain evidence closer to the time of the incident or accident, which could be beneficial for their case.

The Importance of Contacting a Lawyer Early On

With the changes to the Florida personal injury statute of limitations in 2023 (filing deadline for negligence), plaintiffs now generally only have 2 years to file a lawsuit instead of 4 years. This means it is all the more important to contact a lawyer as soon as you can after an accident or injury. Any failure or delay in reaching out to a lawyer could disqualify you from obtaining compensation.

To avoid this, contact Osborne & Francis at (561) 293-2600 if you or a loved one were injured due to someone else’s negligence. We are on hand to ensure your case is filed in a prompt and timely manner.

Rebuttable Presumption for Lodestar Attorney Fees

The lodestar fee refers to the base fee calculated by multiplying the reasonable number of hours worked by a reasonable hourly rate. HB 837 creates a rebuttable presumption that the lodestar fee is a sufficient and reasonable attorney fee for most civil actions. 

This provision may significantly impact the way attorney’s fees are determined in personal injury lawsuits. In the past, Florida law allowed attorney fees to be based on various factors such as market rates, mitigation of risk, and the likelihood of success at the beginning of the case. 

The new bill provides a starting point for fee calculations, and parties may present evidence to challenge the fee. However, this typically only happens in rare cases where evidence can be presented to show that competent counsel could not have otherwise been retained.  

The bill also largely removes the “one-way” attorney fees that insurers often pay in order to cover plaintiff lawyer costs. 

Standards for Bad Faith Actions

The new bill creates new standards that will apply to bad-faith actions. Generally, it restricts the applicability of various attorney fee provisions in some actions against insurers. 

Specially, this may involve: 

  • Effects on the current 90-day notice period
  • Impacts of good faith on the overall compensation awarded
  • Liability for failure to pay policy limits in cases where multiple claim limits were exceeded

This is a highly complex area of insurance and injury law and is best handled with the assistance of a lawyer. A qualified injury attorney can explain how these new standards might affect your case.

Evidence Standards for Compensation for Medical Expenses

HB 837 updates the standards for evidence when proving compensation for medical expenses in certain civil cases. Before, plaintiffs were generally permitted to present the full amount of medical bills for services rendered by healthcare professionals. 

Now, evidence for proving compensation is limited to the amounts actually paid (regardless of the sources of payment). 

Admissible evidence for unpaid past medical charges will now also depend on whether the injured person has health care coverage or Medicare/Medicaid. 

This is another major, sweeping update to civil tort claims that can potentially affect the amount of compensation you receive in a lawsuit. As such, it is highly recommended that you work closely with an experienced injury attorney, who will be able to present evidence in a way that supports your case. 

Consideration of Fault in Injury Cases: Modified Comparative Negligence Standard

The bill updates Florida’s negligence standard from one of pure comparative negligence to modified comparative negligence. Under this new standard, if a plaintiff is found to be more negligent than the defendant, they may be barred from recovering compensation. 

Previously, the plaintiff was allowed to recover in proportion to the degree of the defendant’s negligence. This is also a major change in the law that affects plaintiff cases. Contact a lawyer if you have questions about these new standards and the differences between previous standards.

Presumption Against Liability for Multifamily Residential Property Owners

Owners or operators of multifamily residential property owners have a presumption against liability for criminal acts that occur on the premises if they implement specific security measures. These measures may involve: 

  • Installation of security cameras in important areas
  • Adequate lighting in places like parking lots and common areas
  • Locking devices on doors
  • Various other specified security measures

Questions about what constitutes negligent security should be directed to an experienced premises liability lawyer. 

Various Other Changes Under Florida House Bill 837

Other impacts of the tort reform bill in Florida include: 

  • Distribution of Proceeds in Third-Party Claims: New guidelines specify how proceeds are to be distributed when two or more third-party claims arise out of a single occurrence exceeding policy limits.
  • Limitations on Applicability of Provisions Relating to Attorney Fees in Certain Actions against Insurers: Defines when certain provisions regarding attorney fees apply, such as those involving “one-way attorney’s fees.”
  • Disclosures for Medical Expenses Rendered Under Letters of Protection: Certain disclosures are now required for claims for medical expenses if the treatment was rendered under a letter of protection. The letter of protection needs to be disclosed, as well as all medical expense bills. 
  • Revised Immunity from Liability for Trespassers: Liability (immunity) of property owners may change for cases involving injuries to trespassers on the premises.
  • Applicability of Provisions Relating to Offer of Judgment & Demand for Judgment: New procedural rules specify when provisions regarding offer of judgment and demand for judgment apply.

As mentioned, the changes under HB 837 are highly significant and far-reaching. Florida courts saw a tremendous increase in civil filings right before the passage and signing of the bill. Since the tort reform changes only apply to lawsuits filed after the legislation went into effect, many attorneys were prompted to have their cases heard as soon as possible before the bill’s implementation. 

For instance, the total number of cases filed in March 2023 was 3.58 million. This was a 28% increase from February, and 10% higher than the record high in August 2022. Currently, injury victims are encouraged to contact a lawyer as soon as possible after an injury, since these changes are now in effect.   

What Is Tort Reform? 

“Tort reform” refers to changes in the civil justice system, often with the goal of reducing the ability of injured victims to file lawsuits, or limiting the amount of compensation they can receive.

There is ongoing debate about whether tort reform is beneficial or not. Advocates of tort reform often argue that such changes make the court systems more efficient and prevent instances of frivolous lawsuits. 

Critics of tort reform argue that tort reform can infringe upon an individual’s right to fair and just compensation. It can also have a “chilling effect" on litigation, meaning that plaintiffs might become discouraged from pursuing legal remedies through the court system. 

Regardless of these points, what’s important is that injured plaintiffs receive the legal guidance and representation they are entitled to under the law. As personal injury laws evolve and change, it is important to find a lawyer who stays updated on such changes and understands how to strengthen your case using all possible tools and resources. 

Contact a Lawyer at Osborne & Francis if You Need Representation 

With the changes brought about by HB 837, it’s more important than ever to understand your legal rights and to contact a lawyer as soon as you can after an injury. Especially with the reduction in the statute of limitations, plaintiffs now need to take action much sooner in order to pursue a legal remedy. 

At Osborne & Francis, our team of lawyers has a proven track record of successfully handling cases, even in the midst of major changes to tort and personal injury law. We have returned significant verdicts and settlements on behalf of clients, including a $1 billion settlement in connection with hip implant injuries. Contact us at (561) 293-2600 to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation where we can discuss your case.

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