Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 837 into law on March 24, 2023, changing the landscape of Florida’s civil litigation and revising Florida tort law in the most significant manner in recent memory.
The bill was touted as a remedy to protect businesses, property owners, and corporations from paying excessive damages in lawsuits. The impact of these changes and amendments will affect how Floridians can seek relief for the wrongs done to them by others. The new law limits the rights of insureds to sue their insurers for wrongly delaying and improperly adjusting claims. Furthermore, the new law limits the rights of people injured by the negligence of others in important ways that may negatively affect Floridian victims of negligence for years to come.
More than one legislator expressed their support for the bill because they hope it will translate to lower premiums. However, the last three bills passed curtailing the rights of consumers failed to encourage insurance companies to lower their premiums. This bill also does not require insurers to make insurance more affordable to their insureds.
Statute of Limitations Shortened
The new law has lowered the time period in which most negligence claims can be brought by reducing Florida’s statute of limitations for general negligence from four years to two years. In other words, most negligence claims accruing after March 24, 2023, must be brought within two years of the occurrence or the claim will be forever barred.
If a Plaintiff is More Than Fifty Percent At-Fault, There’s No Recovery
According to HB 837, “any party found to be greater than 50 percent at fault for his or her own harm may not recover any damages”. Accordingly, if a jury determines that the Plaintiff was more than 50 percent responsible for the incident their claim will be barred. Prior to this bill’s passing, a Plaintiff’s damages were reduced in proportion to their percentage of liability.
Policy and Damage Limits
The bill also provides additional protections when dealing with multiple claims on the same policy. This portion of the bill limits an insurer’s duty to act in good faith on behalf of their insured. Consequently, if two or more parties make a claim on a single incident and those claims exceed the policy’s limits, the claimants are entitled to a prorated share, determined by a court or arbitrator, not to exceed the policy’s limits.
Adding the Criminal Assailant on the Verdict Form
In another victory for insurance carriers, they will now have the ability to blame a criminal assailant for injuries that could have been prevented or lessened by reasonable security measures. The new law allows defendants to do this by listing an intentional tortfeasor on the verdict form, something that was prohibited by Florida law before recent lobbying efforts by insurance companies. Business owners have a duty to maintain their property in a reasonable manner and to protect those invited onto the property from a dangerous condition of which the property owner knew of or should have known existed.
One such dangerous condition recognized by the law is the absence of or insufficient security under the circumstances. Now, insurance carriers for those business owners assigned with the duty to maintain the property in a safe condition can assign responsibility for harm caused by the property owner’s unreasonable conduct to the very danger from which the owner failed to protect invitees: the criminal assailant. This is akin to assigning responsibility to a dog rather than the dog’s owner for biting a child or blaming a puddle of water leaking from a refrigerator unit which caused a customer to slip and fall at a grocery store.
Changes To “Bad Faith” Claims
The Florida Senate’s November 2011 Interim Report, states that the “bad faith” law allows an insured or someone who has been injured by an insured person to recover damages from an insurer for failing to settle a claim in good faith when the insurer could and should have done so”. Florida recognized an insurer’s duty to use the same degree of care and diligence as a person of ordinary care and prudence should exercise in the management of their own business. That obligation obligated the insurer to advise their insured of settlement opportunities, to advise as to the probable outcome of litigation, to warn of the possibility of an excess judgment, and to advise the insured of any steps the insured might take to avoid same. Insurers had to investigate the facts, give fair consideration to a settlement offer that is not unreasonable under the facts, and settle, if possible, where a reasonably prudent person, faced with the prospect of paying the total recovery, would do so. HB 837 now calls into question this seminal law and alleviates carriers of some of their responsibilities.
Elimination of Attorney’s Fees in First-Party Claims
Historically, Florida provided a statutory provision allowing a person filing suit against their own insurance carrier to recover reasonable attorney’s fees. The intent of the statute was to level the playing field. While insurance companies have the resources to pay for an attorney when they deny, delay paying, or underpay a claim, most insureds do not have the same resources. Therefore, Florida had a law that provided for the insurance carrier to pay the insured’s reasonable attorney fees if they were forced to file suit against their insurer and prevailed. That statutory fee provision has now been eliminated. Accordingly, now when an insurance carrier refuses to pay a hospital bill which should be covered under an insured’s personal injury protection policy; when an insurance carrier underpays a homeowner’s claim; or when an insurance company refuses to pay the benefits under a life insurance policy it will be insurmountably more difficult to find competent and adequate legal representation.
Letter of Protection Must Be Divulged
In Florida, an individual may form an agreement with a medical provider to receive medical treatment while pursuing their claims for damages against the person who caused an injury. The document provides a mechanism allowing a patient unable to pay their medical expenses caused by the negligence of another to wait until the of a case to pay the doctor for services necessitated by the at-fault party’s negligence. Under HB 837, letters of protection must now be divulged in most lawsuit proceedings where a victim of negligence is seeking recovery of medical bills under a letter of protection.
Call An Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
Personal injury lawsuits can be arduous and complicated. Panter, Panter, and Sampedro have the expertise and resources needed to get just compensation for the losses you’ve suffered due. Our team of expert attorneys can help you understand your options and navigate the legal process. Speak to an attorney today at 305-662-6178.