What exactly is Florida tort reform HB 837?

by Jul 6, 2023Auto Accident, Car Accidents, HB 837, Laws, Personal Injury

What exactly is Florida tort reform HB 837?

by Jul 6, 2023Auto Accident, Car Accidents, HB 837, Laws, Personal Injury

What exactly is Florida tort reform HB 837?
What exactly is Florida tort reform HB 837?

The Bodden & Bennett Law Group recognizes the drastic shifts brought by recent modifications to Florida’s civil justice system, which have far-reaching repercussions on individuals and businesses across the state.

Florida Tort Reform HB 837, which took effect on March 24, 2023, has significantly altered many legal arenas, including attorney fee awards, the statute of limitations, negligence, and others. Keeping abreast of these pivotal shifts is crucial, especially for those engaged in civil litigation, as these changes could sway the outcome of their cases significantly.

This article will critically dissect the core facets of HB 837 and offer insights on circumventing the repercussions of these transformations in Florida’s civil justice system. Our seasoned attorneys are readily available to respond to your inquiries or provide any necessary assistance.

Change to Contingency Fee Multiplier

One notable instance of these alterations in Florida’s civil justice system made by HB 837 revolves around contingency fee multipliers in attorney fee awards. While these transformations might be seen to encourage fair compensation for legal aid and establish an equitable battleground in civil litigation, they also place restrictive boundaries on plaintiffs and their attorneys.

Adoption of Federal Standard for Attorney Fee Awards

Previously, Florida possessed its own set of criteria for determining contingency fee multipliers, looking at factors like the complexity of the case, the likelihood of success, and the finances of the winning party.

Presently, Florida’s HB 837 has necessitated the adoption of the federal standard, thereby conforming to the Lodestar method practiced in numerous jurisdictions across the nation. This could potentially limit the flexibility and discretion historically accorded to Florida courts in attorney fee awards.

Limited Application of Multipliers

HB 837 has further restricted the application of contingency fee multipliers, which can now only be invoked in rare and exceptional circumstances. This restriction, while aimed at preventing inflated fee awards and promoting fairness in civil lawsuits, could potentially impact the risk-bearing capacity of attorneys taking up challenging cases and put undue pressure on those already grappling with the financial strain of a lawsuit.

The Abolition of “One-Way” Attorney Fee Provisions Threatens Insured Individuals

HB 837, a recent legislative change in Florida, has eliminated the “one-way” attorney fee provisions in insurance-related disputes. This radical transformation compromises the rights of individuals and bolsters insurance companies by staving off potential litigations.

Adverse Consequences of the Abolition of Automatic Attorney Fee Awards in Insurance Cases

The implementation of HB 837 in Florida has stripped insured plaintiffs of their automatic entitlement to attorney fees upon winning a case against an insurance company. This prior provision incentivized legal actions against insurance companies, thereby adhering them to their obligations.

Presently, with the repeal of these “one-way” provisions, plaintiffs no longer have the safeguard of attorney fees assurance in insurance-based disputes, strengthening the insurance companies at the expense of the insured. It raises concerns about possible insurer misconduct without the fear of costly litigation.

The Disparity in Awarding Attorney Fees for Construction Surety Bond Claims

Contrastingly, the legal recourse to award attorney fees for construction surety bond claims still exists even as the “one-way” attorney fee provisions cease for insurance disputes. Stakeholders such as owners, contractors, subcontractors, laborers, and material suppliers are still allowed to recover attorney fees if they emerge victorious in disagreements over construction surety bonds. This privilege enjoyed by the construction sector stakeholders over insured individuals adds an additional layer of injustice, stimulating a debate about the fairness and consistency of this new law.

Disadvantages of Limited Recovery of Attorney Fees in Total Coverage Denial Cases

HB 837, while eliminating the “one-way” attorney fee provisions in insurance matters, still curtails the options for plaintiffs to reclaim attorney fees, particularly when they have been unsurprisingly denied coverage by the insurance company.

Complications with Declaratory Judgment Actions

HB 837 brings with it the convoluted option of using declaratory judgment actions in situations where insurance agencies dismiss coverage claims outright. A declaratory judgment action is a legal procedure that seeks a court’s stance on parties’ rights and obligations, which can be disconcertingly ambiguous in insurance disputes. This can complicate matters for both plaintiffs and insurers in understanding the coverage policy and deciding if the insurer is indeed accountable for particular claims.

Hurdles in Obtaining Fees from Insurance Companies in Certain Cases

In instances where complete coverage is denied by an insurance company, plaintiffs face uphill battles to extract their legal fees. Firstly, they must initiate a declaratory judgment action to prove the insurance firm’s obligation to the claim. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiff, they might be entitled to their attorney fees. However, this assurance of attorney fees being awarded only when the primary coverage dispute is resolved and if it is shown that the insurer unjustly denied coverage is far from clear and straightforward.

Contraction of the Statute of Limitations for General Negligence Cases

A significant setback of HB 837 lies in the dramatic decrease in the statute of limitations for general negligence cases in Florida. This limits the time frame for plaintiffs to address their claims and seek recompense for injuries caused by negligence.

New Two-Year Statute: A Challenge

Previously, Florida law provided plaintiffs four years for general negligence cases. However, under HB 837, this window is now halved to two years. The risk is that this brief window pressures plaintiff to hastily file their claims instead of opening pathways for negligence cases to be more swiftly resolved. Expert advice from seasoned attorneys will, therefore, be crucial to ensure the claims are lodged within this condensed timeframe.

Restrained Protections for Active-Duty Servicemembers

Although Florida Tort Reform HB 837 shortens the time frame for general negligence cases, it particularly disregards the unique troubles faced by active-duty service members. Even though the bill provides some protection by extending the statute of limitations for such individuals, it still falls short as it primarily impacts their ability to be present in court, leaving them to pursue their negligence claims after completing their active duty.

Adverse Revisions to Florida’s Comparative Negligence System

Florida’s comparative negligence system, vital in settling liability and compensation in personal injury cases, has undergone regrettable changes with the passage of HB 837.

From “Pure” to “Modified” Comparative Negligence: A Backward Shift

Before implementing the controversial HB 837 bill, Florida employed a “pure” comparative negligence system. Under this system, the compensation awarded to an individual in a personal injury case was reduced proportionally based on their level of fault, even when it exceeded the defendant’s fault. Unfortunately, the enactment of the HB 837 bill has led to the adoption of a “modified” comparative negligence system in Florida.

In this revised system, a plaintiff more than 50 percent at fault is denied any damages from the defendant. This drastic alteration is supposed to distribute damages more accurately, mirroring the degree of harm each party has caused.

Detrimental Effect on Plaintiff’s Ability to Claim Compensation

This switch to a “modified” comparative negligence system poses a grave threat to individuals seeking reparation for personal injury claims. If an individual is found to be over 50 percent responsible for their personal injury, their ability to claim restitution from other parties is stripped away.

As such, it becomes crucial for individuals to consult skilled lawyers who grasp these new, potentially harmful regulations and can assist in formulating a strong case to maximize potential compensation.

Exemption of Medical Negligence Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Actions

Worryingly, HB 837’s modifications to Florida’s comparative negligence system are not universally applied to all personal injury cases. Notably, the “modified” comparative negligence standard is not applicable to wrongful death or personal injury cases originating from medical malpractice.

These cases remain under the jurisdiction of Florida’s former “pure” comparative negligence framework, adding another layer of complexity to an already troubling situation.

Modifications to Florida’s “Bad Faith” Framework

The Florida Bill HB 837 is prompting controversy for the reforms it introduces to the state’s “bad faith” insurance framework. The changes unduly privilege insurance companies, ultimately at the expense of policyholders and their rights.

Absolution for Insurers Fulfilling Certain Conditions

The revised legislation stipulates that insurance companies can avoid “bad faith” accusations by adhering to certain parameters. These include promptly offering the lower of two amounts within 90 days—the policy limit or the claimant’s demanded sum—upon receipt of a claim and its supporting evidence. Critics argue this provides an unjustified leeway for insurance companies, possibly encouraging them to fast-track claim settlements without thorough examinations.

Restriction of Insurer’s Bad Faith Accountability in Multi-Claimant Scenarios

The new law also allows insurance companies to limit their “bad faith” liability when multiple claimants are involved in a single case. To do this, they can either issue the full policy amount to the court through an interpleader action or offer the total policy limits for division among claimants via binding arbitration within 90 days. Detractors argue that this could overlook individual claim evaluations and unjustly favor insurance companies.

Increased Hurdle to Prove Bad Faith

Another concerning aspect of HB 837 is the requirement to demonstrate more than negligence to prove an insurer’s bad faith. This change could unfairly set a higher threshold for plaintiffs to establish bad faith, potentially enabling insurance companies to shirk their responsibilities.

Insureds, Claimants, and Their Representatives Held to Good Faith Standards

Under these modifications, the actions of claimants, insureds, and their representatives are taken into account in bad-faith suits. If deemed to have acted in bad faith, this could result in fewer damages awarded against the insurance company. This provision claims might place unjust pressure on the claimants while ultimately benefiting insurance companies.

Allowable Reduction of Bad Faith Damages

Plus, the changes pave the way for a reduction in bad faith damages under certain circumstances, such as when the claimant or their representative is adjudicated as not acting in good faith or when the insurance company promptly responds to competing claims. We worry this could provide yet another loophole for insurance companies to lessen their liability.

We Challenge the Incorporation of the Offer of Judgment Statute to Insurance Contract Actions in HB 837

A controversial aspect of Florida Tort Reform HB 837 is the adoption of Florida’s Offer of Judgment Statute, legislation that establishes the rules for proposing and accepting settlement offers in civil lawsuits, now extended to include insurance contract actions.

Inclusion in All Civil Actions Involving Insurance Contracts

Previously, the Offer of Judgment Statute was excluded from insurance contract cases. However, the introduction of HB 837 has made this statute applicable to all civil actions involving insurance contracts. Consequently, the pitching and acceptance of settlement offers between aggrieved parties and insurance companies in insurance contract disputes will now abide by the same procedural norms and standards as those in other civil litigation matters.

The extension of the Offer of Judgment Statute to all insurance contract actions in Florida may complicate rather than simplify the settlement process, potentially leading to delays in resolving insurance disputes. This shift could disadvantage both claimants and insurers by creating a lack of clarity, increasing uncertainty, and fostering an adversarial environment during settlement negotiations.

Changes to Calculation of Medical Damages

The recent introduction of Florida Tort Reform HB 837 brings about controversial adjustments related to the calculation of medical damages in personal injury and wrongful death cases. It poses significant changes to the admissibility of evidence concerning medical expenses and modifications to the original collateral source rule.

Evaluating the Admissibility of Evidence

Before HB 837 came into play, there were thoughtful restrictions on the admittance of certain evidence concerning medical expenses in personal injury and wrongful death cases. The newly passed bill, however, opens the door for a wider range of evidence about the real cost of medical care to be presented. Although intended to heighten fairness, skeptics argue that such policy changes could potentially affect the victim’s right to recover full compensation for the injuries suffered.

Changes to the Collateral Source Rule

Moreover, the HB 837 law has altered the collateral source rule in Florida, which previously protected victims by prohibiting the admission of evidence of payments made by third-party sources for the victim’s medical expenses. Under the new law, courts can consider evidence that supposedly reflects the actual medical costs the claimant may endure.

This shift may inadvertently result in lower damage awards, as it might reveal that much of the treatment received was covered by health insurance, which could potentially reduce the perceived damage suffered by the plaintiff.

The real-world consequences of this law change are yet to be seen. However, the danger exists that an effort to provide a more precise measure of medical damages in personal injury and wrongful death cases could prove unjust. It raises concerns that damage awards might fall short of truly representing the genuine cost of medical care for injured parties, therefore compromising the rights of claimants to full recovery. Furthermore, the value of compensation should be decided based on the severity of the injury, not the financial status of the victim.

Opposition to the Florida Tort Reform HB 837 law related to Negligent Security Cases and Fault Determination

HB 837 also pertains to cases of negligent security, focusing specifically on commercial or real estate property owners, lessors, operators, or managers. This legislation raises objections due to the method by which it apportions blame for injuries caused by the criminal actions of a third party.

Demands on Judge or Jury

In negligent security situations where a lawful visitor to a commercial or real property is harmed by a third party’s criminal act, Florida Tort Reform HB 837 imposes an additional burden on the judge or jury. They are required to assess the culpability of all individuals who possibly contributed to the injury. This requirement is not restricted to the property owners, lessees, operators, and managers but extends to anyone who might have played a role leading up to the injuries.

Complications due to the Inclusion of Everyone Involved

The mission of Florida Tort Reform HB 837 is to evaluate the fault of every individual involved in bringing about an injury in cases of negligent security. However, this goal is flawed as it complicates rather than simplifies liability assessment.

This law potentially deflects the blame from property owners and key players, unfairly diluting their responsibility for injuries that occur on their watch. Instead of providing a clear understanding of responsibility, this law’s approach could lead to a skewed distribution of fault, resulting in damage awards that do not truly reflect the culpability of the different parties to the plaintiff’s injury.

Legislation Regarding Non-Negligence Presumption for Multifamily Residential Property Owners and Operators

House Bill 837 (HB 837) has been introduced with stipulations that potentially absolve owners and major operators of multi-family residential estates of negligence associated with third-party criminal conduct. These amendments could provide an unfair immunity to owners and operators even if they have allegedly implemented particular security measures on their properties.

Enforcing Certain Security Measures

HB 837 brings about new clauses that imply multifamily residential property owners or key operators aren’t liable for any criminal activities carried out by third parties on their properties, provided they claim to have undertaken significant security measures. This presumption seems to overlook the level of efficiency of these security measures and instead focuses on the alleged efforts and investments the property owners claim to have made in the name of resident safety.

Instruction of Best Practices by Florida Crime Prevention Training Institute

HB 837, in an attempt to back these new provisions, directs the Florida Crime Prevention Training Institute within the Department of Legal Affairs to draft a proposed curriculum or best practices for multi-family residential property owners and managers. However, this assistance seems more likely to bolster the claims of property owners regarding security measures in place rather than truly ensuring the safety of the residents.

Limitation of Liability in Relation to Third-Party Criminal Acts

The introduction of a provision that assumes non-negligence on the part of multi-family residential property owners and operators, if they assert the implementation of certain security measures, can unfairly limit their liability for criminal offenses committed on their property. This shift could provide an easy loophole for owners and operators, helping them evade genuine legal consequences despite merely claiming to have undertaken sincere implementation efforts recommended by security measures.

Application of Bill Provisions

HB 837 proposes major alterations to Florida’s civil justice system, and understanding its implications on present and future cases is paramount. This segment delves into the impact of HB 837 on the execution of different elements of the bill in various scenarios.

Retroactive Impact on Causes of Action Accruing After the Effective Date

A fundamental component of Florida Tort Reform HB 837 is the imposition of a two-year statute of limitations for negligence actions. The new rule affects only cases that occur after March 24, 2023. Cases that transpired before this date will follow the previously enforced four-year statute of limitations. Prospective plaintiffs must familiarize themselves with the new constraints on filing negligence lawsuits and require competent counsel to ensure they act within the new, restrictive time frame.

Potential Undermining of Existing Insurance Contract Rights

Florida Tort Reform HB 837 also insists that the bill’s interpretation should not infringe on rights under current insurance contracts. This change promises not to disrupt previously established agreements between insurance holders and insurers. As a result, those with existing insurance contracts must cling to the previously agreed-upon terms and conditions. Individuals have to rely on the security of their original insurance contracts in the face of this new legislation.

Navigating Florida’s Civil Justice System in the Wake of HB 837

At the Bodden & Bennett Law Group, our team of skilled attorneys is committed to helping our clients sail through the complexity of Florida’s civil justice system and safeguarding their rights in light of the recent rules.

If you have concerns or need support related to any of the alterations brought about by Florida Tort Reform HB 837, we urge you to contact us without delay. Our proficient team stands ready to provide expert legal guidance and representation that is customized to your individual case and requirements.

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