How Will Florida Tort Reform Bill 837 Affect My Injury Case?

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The Florida Tort Reform Bill 837 shortens the statute of limitations for injury cases, shifts to a modified comparative fault system, and introduces new standards for determining medical damages. It also lowers the liability of property owners in premises liability cases and creates loopholes for insurance companies to offer low settlements.

The new tort reform law seems to favor insurance providers and businesses more than injury victims. Holding a liable party financially accountable will become more challenging than ever. As such, it is wise to hire a personal injury lawyer to assess the specifics of your case and determine how the changes in tort law will impact your case. The lawyer can also help you develop a strategy for maximizing your chances of recovering reasonable compensation from a liable party (or parties).

What Is Florida’s Tort Reform Bill 837?

Florida’s Tort Reform Bill 837, or simply HB-837, is a new law that introduces significant changes to the state’s civil litigation scene. It seeks to reduce the number of trivial injury lawsuits brought in court. Slashing the time limit for filing negligence suits by half is one of the most significant changes in HB-837.

How Will Bill 837 Affect My Case?

Bill 837 may affect your personal injury cases in the following ways:

You Have Less Time to Build a Solid Claim

There are several steps to complete before initiating a lawsuit. First, you (or your lawyer) must investigate the accident. This investigation involves visiting the accident scene, collecting evidence, examining pictures or video footage and the police report, and interviewing witnesses.

Next, your lawyer determines the potentially liable party (or parties). He or she also determines whether all four elements of an injury case are available in your claim. These elements include duty of care, violation of duty of care, injuries, and damages. Your lawyer then compiles evidence and arguments for proving these elements.

The other step is negotiating a reasonable payout with the at-fault insurance company. Negotiations usually take time, as most insurance companies are hellbent on offering low settlements.

Shortening the statute of limitations means your lawyer will have limited time to complete all the above steps and build a strong case. He or she will also have less time to negotiate a decent settlement with the insurance company.

A short filing deadline also has adverse effects if your injuries are severe or catastrophic. You may, for instance, require more than two years to recover fully from a severe spinal cord or traumatic brain injury. It is hard to determine the full extent of the damages suffered by a severely injured person before that person attains maximum medical improvement (MMI).

You are also prone to making mistakes that could harm your case if you file a lawsuit hurriedly to meet the filing deadline. These mistakes include filing incorrect documents, partially completed forms, and failing to file some documents.

Compensation May Not Cover the Full Scope of Your Medical Costs

Before HB 837, you could pursue damages for your total claim’s value and negotiate a reasonable settlement with the responsible insurer. The new tort reform law, however, caps the compensation you could receive for your losses.

It caps recoverable compensation for some medical expenses at 140% of the Medicaid rate. As such, you may have to cover some costs out of pocket if your medical care exceeds that rate.

The Insurance Company May Delay Settling Your Claim or Offer a low Payout

The tort reform law appears to reduce an insurance company’s legal duty to act in the best interests of its clients at all times. It increases the threshold of holding an insurer liable for acting in bad faith. As such, your insurer may take advantage of these changes and offer you a low payout or delay paying your claim. An attorney is your best defense against these tactics.

You Cannot Force an Insurance Company to Cover Attorney’s Fees

The old law required insurance companies to pay your compensation and cover legal fees if a judge ruled in your favor in an insurance bad faith lawsuit.

The new law removes that obligation. The outcome is that you will have to cover the legal fees out of pocket if you lose an insurance bad faith suit or from your payout if you win.

You Could Be Barred From Recovering Compensation

Before the reform, you could receive compensation even if you were 99% at fault for your injuries. The new law, however, bars you from recovering compensation if your percentage of fault in an injury case exceeds 50%.

What Does Bill 837 Do?

Shifts From a Four-Year to a Two-Year Limit on Statute of Limitations

Previously, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases in Florida was four years. The time limit is now two years per the new tort reform law. This change affects injury cases happening on or after March 24, 2023. So, you have only two years to start an injury lawsuit if you got injured in an accident caused by another party’s negligence on or after March 24, 2023. Otherwise, the statute of limitations for your suit is still four years if your accident happened before that date.

Transitions From Pure Comparative Negligence to a Modified Comparative Negligence System

Florida practiced a pure comparative negligence rule before Bill 837. This rule allows an injured party to recover compensation, no matter the party’s percentage of liability in the accident that caused the injuries. An injured party with 99% liability in an accident can still receive 1% of his or her damages.

The state will transition to a modified comparative negligence rule with a 51% bar. An injured party with over 50% liability for the accident that caused his or her injuries will be ineligible to recover any compensation.

If, for instance, a victim is 35% responsible for the injuries, the victim will collect 65% of the total recoverable damages. A victim who is 53% liable will not recover any damages.

Caps Medical Damages for Personal Injury Cases

The law limits the amount of money you can pursue for medical expenses in an injury claim or lawsuit. Previously, you could seek 100% of all the medical expenses from a personal injury.

Bill 837, however, limits compensation for medical bills if the injured claimant is uninsured. It caps compensation for medical bills at the Medicaid or Medicare rate of uninsured persons. Doctors do not have to offer medical care at these rates, however.

The tort reform law also limits the evidence of the medical treatment costs to the amount owed or incurred. The outcome is a reduction in the total damages for medical bills recovered by the injury victim.

Introducing a Presumption Against Liability for Property Owners

The law introduces a presumption against liability for property owners in premises liability claims arising from the criminal conduct of third parties. The property owners must have, however, implemented security measures on the property for the presumption to apply. Some essential security measures include installing door and window locks, putting a fence with self-latching gates, and ensuring common areas have adequate lighting.

The law also adopts a comparative negligence analysis in negligent security claims or lawsuits. The previous law used a joint and several liability model. This shift lowers property owners’ liability and could keep them from investing in sufficient security features.

Significantly Changes Insurance Bad Faith Claims

Bill 837 introduces significant modifications to the laws related to bad faith suits against insurers. The insurer can lower the chances of facing a bad faith claim by settling claims from victims within 90 days of getting a bad faith claim notification. The deadline for responding to claims in the old law was 30 days.

According to the new law, proving bad faith requires more than negligence. The jury can now examine the actions of the insurer, adjuster, or injured party when deciding bad faith claims. The jury may reduce the damages awarded if it determines that the claimant or his or her attorney acted in bad faith by failing to:

  • Submit the required documents or information
  • Make a demand
  • Try to settle a claim
  • Cooperate with the insurance company or its adjusters

Changes to insurance bad faith laws favor insurance companies more than injured parties. They lower their odds of facing bad faith claims. They also allow them to lower a claim value. So, your best bet at receiving fair compensation is to work with a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer.

A lawyer can help you understand the changes to the tort law and their effects on your case. The lawyer will also explain the legal options available to you and help you navigate the confusing aspects of the Florida Tort Reform Bill 837. Additionally, the lawyer will work tirelessly to lower any negative effects of the bill.

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James (Jim) Magazine is a Florida Board Certified Civil Trial lawyer who has spent his career helping injured victims. Jim is licensed to practice law in the State of Florida since 1990 and is also admitted to practice at the Appellate level and admitted to the United States Supreme Court.