On March 24, 2023, Governor DeSantis signed House Bill 837 into law; however, the weeks prior, nearly 100,000 lawsuits were filed to avoid the bill’s effects. These filings consist of about 77% of the total cases that were filed since January 1, 2023.
To put it simply, HB 837 shifted Florida’s legal standard from “pure” comparative negligence to “modified” comparative negligence. Originally, pure comparative negligence meant that a plaintiff could recover damages proportionate to their degree of fault—regardless of the percentage. For example, if a plaintiff was 60% at fault for damages equaling $100,000, then they could still recover $40,000 from the defendant.
Now, under modified comparative negligence, a plaintiff cannot recover from a defendant when they are more than 50% responsible for their injuries. Further, a plaintiff’s timeframe to file a negligence suit has decreased. The new bill reduced the statute of limitations from four years to two years. However, this new standard does not apply to medical negligence actions.
HB 837 additionally increased transparency in litigation. If a plaintiff is treated under a letter of protection, then it must be disclosed along with all medical expenses. Essentially, the financial relationship between a law firm and the medical provider is not protected by attorney-client privilege. The purpose of this provision is to prevent severely inflated damages.
In summary, the reform addresses several key aspects of the legal system:
1. Modification of Bad Faith Framework: This proposed legislation makes it clear that negligence alone is insufficient to establish bad faith. Claimants are now obligated to engage in good faith practices when providing information and attempting settlements.
2. Changes to Comparative Negligence System: The bill introduces adjustments to Florida’s comparative negligence system, stipulating that a plaintiff more responsible than the defendant generally cannot recover damages.
3. Expanded Immunity for Property Owners: Property owners facing lawsuits related to injuries sustained by criminal actors on their premises will now benefit from enhanced immunity protections.
4. Restriction of Bad Faith Liability: Insurers gain the ability to limit bad faith liability in cases involving multiple claimants by paying the total policy amount before the commencement of settlement negotiations.
5. Removal of Attorney’s Fee Multipliers: Aligning with the federal standard, this legislation discourages baseless lawsuits and protracted legal battles by eliminating the use of attorney’s fee multipliers.
6. Establishment of Uniform Standards for Damages Calculation: The law sets forth uniform standards for juries to accurately calculate medical damages in cases of wrongful death or personal injury.
7. Reduction of Statute of Limitations: The statute of limitations for general negligence cases sees a reduction from four years to two years under the proposed changes.
Ultimately, HB 837 brings about modifications to the bad faith framework, removing one-way attorney’s fees and fee multipliers. It ensures that individuals cannot be held liable for damages if the party suing is more at fault, providing a balanced approach to legal accountability. As Florida embraces these changes, it sends a clear message that it is open for business and committed to creating a fair and just legal landscape.
For more information please contact an attorney at Hardin Thompson, PC!