Evaluating the Effects of Florida’s Recent Tort Reform Bill
In May we provided an overview of the Florida Tort Reform bill designated as HB 837.
As stated in our previous blog, this was a very wide-ranging reform bill that was ratified on March 24, 2023. These changes have already had a significant impact on the rights of injured victims in Florida.
Although at this time it is impossible to predict exactly how this tort reform bill will impact the legal landscape in Florida, it is a worthwhile exercise to anticipate some of its effects.
To review, the new laws biggest changes relate to the following: time limits for injured victims to bring cases to court was reduced from 4 years to 2 years; Florida’s comparative negligence system which relates to the fault of certain parties was modified; reduced the amount of medical bills admissible at trial; limited bad faith claims against insurers; and limited attorney fee awards in certain cases. The law also limited liability against apartment and multi-family properties, which in turn have limited the ability to bring premises liability cases.
For example, under the old law, if a jury attributes 90% fault to the injured party and 10% to the other party, the injured party could still recover 10% of the damages. Now, under the new comparative negligence standard, an injured party is totally barred from recovery if the jury attributes more than 50% fault to the injured party. In other words, this change in the negligence standard would favor the insurance industry who insures negligent drivers. So now, a negligent driver need only show that the injured party is more than 50% at fault to avoid liability entirely. Obviously, this new standard provides defendants with more leverage during settlement discussions, which will undoubtedly result in lower settlement amounts for injured plaintiffs. Essentially, the new comparative negligence standard affects not only motor vehicle cases, but all cases in which negligence is a factor.
The new law also effects cases where insurance carriers do not pay legitimate claims in a timely manner. The standard in these cases is now higher, which now requires “sufficient evidence to support the amount of the claim”. At this time, the term “sufficient evidence” is unclear and will require further interpretation through the courts. However, in claims that involve more than one party, the insurance carrier is now not liable beyond the policy limits for failure to pay any or all of the policy limits within the 90 days required under a Civil Remedy Notice.
The Florida Constitution mandates that “the courts shall be open to every person for redress of any injury and justice shall be administered without sale, denial, or delay”. Whether the new tort reform law or any portions of the law violate the provision of the Florida Constitution is unknown at this time. Florida courts will undoubtedly see many challenges to the new law over the next few years. However, it is clear that the new tort laws were not passed to create additional protections to injured victims.
Our team of attorneys has nearly 100 years of combined experience in helping clients understand their legal options following an injury and getting them the compensation they deserve. Contact Legler, Murphy & Battaglia to schedule a free consultation!