On March 24, 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a new tort law, House Bill 837, bringing significant changes to the tort landscape in Florida. The changes include a reduction in the statute of limitations for negligence actions from four years to two years, the adoption of a modified comparative negligence system, and the reshaping of the bad faith framework for bringing claims against insurance carriers.
The new law has already caused a flurry of litigation, with plaintiffs' counsel rushing to file thousands of lawsuits across the state before the bill became law. The changes made by the bill are likely to have a significant impact on the Florida legal system.
One of the most significant changes brought by the bill is the conversion of Florida's pure comparative negligence system to a modified comparative negligence system. Under the new system, any plaintiff in a negligence action who is found to be more than 50% at fault for their harm is barred from recovering damages. This change applies to causes of action filed after the effective date of the law.
Another major change is the reduction of the statute of limitations for negligence actions from four years to two years. The change applies to causes of actions accruing after the effective date of the law. Florida now joins 44 other states that employ statutes of limitations of under four years for negligence actions.
The bill also implements significant changes to how medical damages are calculated and presented at trial. It establishes a uniform process for calculating medical damages, limiting the medical expense evidence a party may present only to the amount actually paid for the services, not the original amount billed. The bill also makes several changes to the law governing negligent security claims, including permitting apportionment of fault to criminal actors and implementing a presumption against liability for owners of multi-family housing complexes who meet certain conditions.
Finally, the bill introduces significant changes and clarifications to the framework of bad faith actions against insurance carriers. It clarifies that negligence alone is not enough to demonstrate bad faith, requires an insured, claimant, or representative to act in good faith regarding furnishing information, making demands, setting deadlines, and attempting to settle the claim, allows an insurer to avoid third-party bad faith liability if the insurer tenders the policy limits or the amount demanded by the claimant within 90 days after receiving actual notice of the claim, and limits an insurer's liability in actions involving multiple claimants by paying the total amount of the policy limit at the outset of the dispute.
In conclusion, House Bill 837 brings significant changes to the tort landscape in Florida, which are likely to have a significant impact on the state's legal system. The changes include the adoption of a modified comparative negligence system, the reduction of the statute of limitations for negligence actions, and the reshaping of the bad faith framework for bringing claims against insurance carriers. While the full impact of the new law remains to be seen, it is clear that it will have a significant effect on the practice of law in Florida.