Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 837, Civil Remedies, into law on Friday, March 24, 2023. The bill took effect upon signing. This far-reaching Florida tort reform act contains major provisions as outlined below.
The federal standard of eliminating attorney’s fee multipliers is adopted and the law provides that one way attorney fee provision can only be applied in limited situations.
Comparative negligence is changed so that a plaintiff who is more at fault for his or her own injuries than the defendant may not generally recover damages from the defendant.
Uniform standards are provided to assist juries in calculating the accurate value of medical damages in wrongful death or personal injury actions.
The statute of limitations for general negligence cases is reduced from four years to two years.
Certain disclosures are required with respect to claims for medical expenses for treatment rendered under letters of protection.
Immunity is expanded for property owners defending against a criminal who is injured on their property.
The bill provides the following in regard to insurance bad faith claims:
- Modifies the bad faith framework to clarify that negligence alone does not demonstrate bad faith.
- Requires a claimant to act in good faith regarding furnishing information and attempting to settle the insurance claim.
- Allows an insurer to limit their bad faith liability when there are multiple claimants in a single action by paying the total policy amount before negotiations for a settlement begin.
Plaintiff Attorneys Respond with Thousands of New Cases
Plaintiff attorneys raced to file tens of thousands of insurance claims in advance of the Florida tort reform legislation.
Morgan & Morgan, one of the country’s largest plaintiffs’ firms, filed 25,000 insurance-claim cases during the week of March 20 in advance of Florida’s tort reform adoption March 24, according to InsuranceJournal.com reports.
The Sun Sentinel reported that 90,593 circuit civil lawsuits were filed in Florida over four business days between Friday March 17 and Wednesday March 22. Compare this to a total of 118,179 cases filed between January 1 and March 22 to see a drastic jump in lawsuits prior to enactment of the Florida tort reform act.
In response, civil litigation defense attorneys are seeking additional time to respond to the filings. As of this writing, the Florida Supreme Court is determining how to respond to the situation.
Implications for Panel Counsel Law Firms
An avalanche of lawsuits is clearly the first challenge for insurance defense law firms resulting from the Florida tort reform act. The vast majority of cases will hit auto insurance panel counsel law firms, but premises liability claims will increase also.
Separate efforts to rein in excessive litigation regarding Florida homeowners insurance have also been underway. According to the Florida Department of Financial Services, “recent legislative changes prohibit a policyholder from assigning any post-loss benefits of a residential or commercial property insurance contract issued or renewed on or after January 1, 2023.”
The workload will be difficult for law firms that are struggling to hire and retain attorneys, particularly at the associate level. The defense firms that have invested in advanced automation and tracking of intake and case management systems will be favored in this regard. Better management tools give law firms the ability to produce metrics-based reports that accurately track lawsuit open rates, status updates, calendar actions, and cost assessments. Better equipped defense firms will do well in both serving their clients and managing their own workload more effectively.
As the saying goes, “pedal to the metal” for now.
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This article is provided for educational purposes only. It is not to be interpreted as legal advice or an opinion in regard to any topic discussed. The article should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Every situation is different and circumstances vary widely depending on the governing state law, policy provisions, and related considerations.