Florida Revamps Bad Faith Law, Abolishes One-Way Attorneys' Fees, Implements Modified Comparative Negligence, and Introduces Tort Reforms
On March 23, 2023, the Florida Legislature approved HB 837, a comprehensive reform of the state's tort law. Governor Ron DeSantis promptly signed the bill into law the following day. This article provides an overview of the numerous significant amendments to Florida law, including modifications to bad faith law, the abolishment of one-way attorneys' fee statutes, a decrease in the statute of limitations for negligence cases, the implementation of modified comparative fault, and more.
Florida's bad faith law has undergone significant changes as a result of the bill. It clarifies that mere negligence is not enough to establish bad faith, and it imposes good faith duties on insureds, claimants, and their representatives when interacting with insurers. The bill also limits bad faith actions in cases where the insurer offers a certain amount within 90 days of receiving a claim, and it extends the statute of limitations in cases where no qualifying offer is made.
The legislation repeals four one-way attorneys' fee statutes and establishes a new statute that allows courts to award fees in specific cases involving total coverage denial. However, it does not apply to residential or commercial property insurance policies. Additionally, the bill creates a strong presumption that the lodestar fee is reasonable in any action where attorneys' fees are awarded by a court.
The statute of limitations for negligence actions has been reduced from four to two years, and the bill adopts a modified comparative fault system that prohibits parties found to be more than 50% at fault for their own harm from recovering damages, with some exceptions.
The bill also imposes restrictions on evidence related to medical expenses, letters of protection, and limits on damage awards in personal injury or wrongful death actions. It sets specific limitations on the evidence that can be presented for past and future medical treatment expenses and requires the disclosure of certain information related to letters of protection and health care coverage.
Furthermore, the legislation limits premises liability for property owners who implement certain security measures and meet specific requirements. It also clarifies that Florida's offer of judgment statute applies to civil actions involving insurance contracts.
The provisions of HB 837 took effect immediately upon being signed by Governor DeSantis. The changes to the statute of limitations apply to causes of action accruing after the effective date, while the bill's other provisions apply only to insurance contracts issued or renewed and causes of action filed after the effective date.
Dennis Gonzalez Jr.
Miami Criminal Defense Attorney