By Marcus Fernandez
If you suffered injuries from one of the 15,000+ car accidents that occurred on Florida’s roadways this year, it’s crucial that you’re aware of the sweeping changes made to the state’s personal injury laws that could potentially impact your legal rights. The new tort reform law reduces by 50% the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for injuries caused by someone’s negligence. It also changes the state’s long-standing comparative negligence rules to make it more difficult to recover damages in cases when you may have been partially at fault.
The best way to protect your rights when injured in a car crash or other types of incidents caused by someone else’s negligence is to have a basic understanding of the new law. This article takes you through fundamental changes brought about by the new law and explains how they may affect you.
Highlights of Florida tort reform law
On March 24, 2023, the governor signed HB 837 into law, which introduces several modifications that could impact personal injury claims. It is too soon to know how courts will interpret and apply the law, but the provisions the following are key provisions that could have an immediate impact:
- Cuts in half, from four years to two, the statute of limitations, which is when an injured person has to file a lawsuit against the party at fault.
- Limits the type of evidence attorneys for people injured in accidents may use to prove past and future medical expenses.
- Limits the liability of owners of multi-family residential properties in personal injury cases based on a lack of security or inadequate security.
- Changes comparative negligence rules to make it more difficult for a person injured in an accident to recover compensation when they were partially at fault for causing it.
- Makes it more difficult for third parties to pursue a bad-faith claim against a liability insurance company.
How these changes will affect you as a person injured in an accident or being sued for causing one to happen depends on your case’s circumstances and facts. The upcoming sections examine the highlighted key provisions of the law.
Reduction in the statute of limitations
You have a limited amount of time to sue a person or entity whose negligence caused you harm, as set by the statute of limitations. The tort reform legislation reduces the current statute of limitations in negligence cases from four years to only two for negligence claims arising on or after March 24, 2023.
If you have suffered injuries due to the negligent, reckless, or intentional behavior of another person or business, the cause of the incident doesn’t matter – whether it was a car crash, a slip-and-fall accident, a dog bite, or any other type of incident. If the incident occurred after the enactment of the new law, you have a two-year window to file a lawsuit or risk forfeiting your right to compensation, rather than the previous four-year period.
When someone else’s potential fault causes you injury, it’s essential that you take prompt action. This is because the reduced time to sue necessitates immediate contact with a Tampa personal injury attorney to safeguard your legal rights. Early contact with your lawyer allows them to investigate, gather evidence, and prove liability, injuries, and damages.
Limits on past and future medical expenses
HB 837 takes aim at the substantial medical expenses incurred by a person injured in an accident. The law attempts to limit medical damages by capping reimbursement at the usual and customary charges that health insurance providers typically pay for services, which could result in a lower payout than the provider’s billed amount.
Insurance companies and Medicare and Medicaid customarily pay less than the amounts billed by medical providers. The new law now limits the evidence presented at trial to prove past medical expenses to the amount paid for the services.
Evidence of the cost of medical expenses for future care that an injured person may require will also be limited at trial based on whether or not health insurance coverage exists. If it does, then the attorney for the injured person may present evidence of the coverage amount that would be paid for the medical care.
New obstacles to suing property owners
HB 837 could impact individuals living in multifamily residential properties, such as apartment buildings. Before the new law, a victim of a robbery, mugging, or other criminal activity might have a claim against a property owner for failing to provide adequate lighting and other security measures to prevent such attacks. The state’s premises liability law applies to these types of cases.
HB 837 creates a new presumption against liability in favor of the owner of a multifamily residential property in cases brought by the victim of a crime claiming the owner was negligent for failing to provide adequate security. The presumption applies in cases where the owner has put lights, security cameras, and other security measures into place before the criminal activity.
The law also now requires that jurors consider the actions of the person committing the criminal act when the victim sues a building owner for compensation. The law allows for apportioning fault in the case so that a lawsuit could result in the property owner paying less to a crime victim in a negligent security lawsuit. An illustration of this would be if a jury determines that in a robbery case, the person who committed the robbery is 70% responsible for the injuries suffered by the victim, while the building owner is found to be 30% liable.
In this scenario, the building owner would be responsible for paying only 30% of the damages awarded in the case. It would be unusual for a person committing a robbery to have assets; the new law will result in an injured person receiving only part of the damages they would have previously received.
New comparative negligence law – You could be awarded nothing
Until now, Florida had what lawyers call a “pure” comparative negligence law, but it now has a “modified” comparative negligence law. Comparative negligence means that the person who caused an accident had the right to defend against your lawsuit to recover damages by presenting evidence proving that you were partially at fault.
Let’s say you sustain injuries in a car accident when your vehicle collides with another vehicle as both you and the other motorist attempt to change lanes at the same time. You sue the other driver claiming negligence for crashing into your car.
At the trial, a jury found that you were 51% responsible for causing the crash, and the other driver was 49% at fault. The jury determined that your damages totaled $100,000. Under pure comparative negligence rules, you would be awarded $49,000 instead of $100,000 because you were 51% responsible for the accident.
The new law changed Florida to a modified comparative negligence system. You may not receive compensation after March 24, 2023, if you were predominantly at fault.
The change to modified comparative negligence does not apply in all negligence cases. Medical malpractice cases continue to be subject to the pure comparative negligence rules.
Bad-faith claims against an insurance company
Liability insurance companies have a legal obligation to act in good faith when handling claims made against policies they issue. If a liability insurance company insuring the person whose negligence caused your injuries engages in conduct that constitutes bad faith, you may have a right to sue the insurer.
In March, lawmakers signed into law tort reform measures that included new rules to protect insurers against bad-faith claims. One of the changes allows a judge or jury to consider your conduct and your attorney’s conduct in determining the damages to award you for the insurer’s bad faith. If you or your lawyer acted in bad faith, it could reduce the amount awarded to you in damages.
The law now allows an insurer to avoid your bad-faith claim by tendering the policy limits or the amount that your attorney demanded to settle a case, whichever is less. You must submit the tender within 90 days of making a claim against the insured.
If you have an insurance policy and file a successful bad faith claim against your insurance company, recent changes in the law may impact your ability to recover legal fees. Under the recent changes in the law, the legal fees you pay your attorney to represent you in a bad-faith claim against your insurance company are generally no longer recoverable. However, this rule may not apply in cases where the insurer denied coverage for a claim made against you.
Learn more from a Tampa personal injury attorney
The changes made by the recently enacted legislation do not alter the fact that you have the right to seek compensation when someone’s negligent, reckless, or intentional behavior causes harm. If you have questions about the new laws, or how they may affect your personal injury claim, get answers by contacting a Tampa personal injury attorney at Kinney, Fernandez & Boire Law. Contact us for a free case evaluation.