In March 2023, Florida enacted sweeping tort reform laws. If you’re looking to file a claim for damages with the assistance of a Florida personal injury lawyer about a suit for damages, be prepared for some serious changes that may affect your case.
Overview of the tort reform bill in Florida
Prior to the March changes, Florida laws were fairly generous toward plaintiffs. Nearly every accident victim had an opportunity to recover compensatory damages, the deadline for filing a suit based on general negligence was many years from the incident date, and the state had fairly permissible evidence rules for plaintiffs.
The recent changes favor insurers, medical care providers, corporations, and other common defendants in mass tort and civil litigation suits. Although proponents of the bill noted that businesses were afforded greater protections from lawsuits and anticipated fewer frivolous lawsuits, the bill’s critics noted that many of the changes may harm plaintiffs who have no recourse for financial justice other than a lawsuit.
It’s important to note that these changes only apply to cases that are filed after the bill went into effect.
Key highlights of the bill
Some of the key highlights of Florida House Bill 837 include:
- The statute of limitations for filing a general negligence lawsuit is reduced from four years to two.
- Admissible evidence to establish actual and future medical costs is more limited.
- Florida shifts from a pure comparative negligence state to a modified comparative negligence state, which means a plaintiff can no longer collect damages if they were more at fault than the defendant.
- The ability to recover attorney’s fees is much more limited.
- When recovering attorney fees, a lodestar fee, based on prevailing hourly rates, will be considered a sufficient measure of recoverable legal fees, not a contingency multiplier.
- If a premises liability case goes before a jury, the jury is permitted to consider the contribution of fault by all persons who contributed to the plaintiff’s injury
Many of the new laws affect lawsuits filed by an insurance company that is trying to recoup a claim it paid to a plaintiff that should have been covered by the defendant. However, these changes are still likely to affect most personal injury plaintiffs.
How the bill can affect a person’s case
New fault rule
House Bill 837 changes the state’s former fault law to modified comparative negligence, the threshold that determines whether a plaintiff can recover damages.
According to the previous law, even if a plaintiff contributed 99% of the blame for their accident, they could still seek damages, but their award was reduced by the percent of the blame they were assigned.
Under modified comparative negligence statutes, plaintiffs can only recover damages if they contributed less than 50% of the fault for the accident. Plaintiffs who filed a case with the presumption that they could still recover less than 50% of the settlement they sought may have a harder time proving that they contributed less than half of the fault for their injuries.
This change does not apply to claims brought for medical malpractice.
Calculating medical costs
A second impact is the way medical costs are calculated when determining economic damages. Although the law states that a plaintiff may recover the “reasonable value” of their medical services, changes in what costs can be recovered favor the defendant.
Previously, plaintiffs could file motions to add additional medical charges to their claim up until just before the trial started and weren’t required to indicate whether those bills had already been paid by the plaintiff’s insurance company or an employer’s workers’ comp carrier.
Now juries must consider how much was already paid for the plaintiff’s medical care when awarding economic damages. Juries may also consider whether the medical treatment provided was medically necessary.
This means that the awarded medical damages can no longer exceed the amount actually paid by or for the plaintiff plus any outstanding bills for treatment or the cost of recommended future treatment.
Florida personal injury lawyers representing plaintiffs must submit evidence of the actual (often insurance or Medicaid-discounted) dollar amount paid and not the “retail” amount the care would cost.
How will plaintiffs be affected in practice?
Thanks to House Bill 837, plaintiffs’ attorneys have more limitations on admissible evidence for medical damages, and inexperienced lawyers may have a tougher time fighting to prove their clients were less than 50% responsible for the accident.
At Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath, we aren’t afraid to take on even the toughest litigation. Our dedicated Florida personal injury lawyers have the skill and experience needed to secure maximum compensation on your behalf, despite these changes to Florida law. Contact us today at (561) 655-1990 to schedule a free case review.