By: Jeremy Rogers, Esq.
On March 24th, 2023, Florida passed into law HB 837 that significantly overhauls several areas of negligence and bad faith law within the Sunshine State. There has been considerable commentary on the bill as it worked its way through the legislature and since it became apparent that it would become law given the conservative majority in state government. Both negligence and bad faith claims are impacted with an eye toward leveling the playing field between what have been called the “predatory billboard lawyers” and those responsible for defense of negligence and bad faith claims. For purposes of this blog, I will primarily discuss those changes to negligence claims and litigation that have been implemented by the new tort reform law. I will only hit the highlights because the considerable changes – and their overall potential effect – are ripe for a full law review article.
The new law implements the following changes to negligence claims in the State of Florida:
- The statute of limitations on negligence claims is reduced from 4 years to 2 years.
- Florida changes from pure comparative fault to modified comparative fault. A plaintiff who is more than 50% at fault for his or her own injuries is now barred from recovery.
- Attorney-client privilege no longer attaches to communications by an attorney to the client referring the client to a medical provider for treatment.
- Letters of protection are now discoverable.
- A plaintiff who has or is eligible for health care coverage but is treating under a letter of protection is limited to offering evidence of the amount which their health care coverage would be contractually obligated to pay. This applies to both past and future medical treatment. No longer will a plaintiff be allowed to “board” the entirety of unpaid medical bills, and providers will no longer be able to charge double or triple what would normally be charged for the same procedure. Because the wording includes plaintiffs who are “eligible” for health care coverage, this limitation would apply even if they chose not to submit their treatment to their health care carrier.
- In negligent security cases, the trier of fact is now required to consider the comparative fault of all persons who contributed to the injury or death, including the criminal actor. Also, the owner or operator of the property cannot be held negligent for injuries to one who is attempting to commit, or is engaged in committing, any criminal act on the property.
With respect to the change in the statute of limitations, the new law brings Florida in line with 25 of the 50 states. The other provisions, likewise, bring Florida more in line with a large number of other states.
It should be noted that application dates of the new law are a bit nuanced. None of the provisions will likely apply retroactively, and there is nothing in the law that indicates otherwise. The new 2-year statute of limitations will apply to cases accruing after March 24, 2023. The remaining provisions will apply to cases filed after March 24, 2023.
StraightforWARD Legal Advice:
Quite obviously, it will take considerable time for the courts to sort out many of the details regarding application and interpretation of the new law. However, on its face, these reforms will certainly change the game for all involved in negligence litigation. Defendants and their counsel will be better protected and put on a more level playing field rather than having to fight with one hand tied behind their back. Insurers needing help navigating this new bill can feel free to contact Jeremy Rogers at (813) 558-3387 or firstname.lastname@example.org.