By Anita Byer, Setnor Byer Insurance & Risk

Tort reform is underway in the Sunshine State. On March 24, 2023, House Bill 837, an historic reform bill containing monumental changes to Florida’s civil tort system, was signed into law. According to its proponents, HB 837 will fix the state’s broken civil justice system by reducing frivolous lawsuits without restricting access to the courts. Its significance can be gleaned from reports of attorneys rushing to file thousands of new lawsuits before the bill became law. Though the efficacy of these reforms will not be known for some time, their impact will be immediate.

HB 837 makes numerous changes to Florida’s civil justice system, including:

Reducing the statute of limitations for general negligence cases from four years to two years.

Changing Florida’s comparative negligence system from a “pure” comparative negligence system to a “modified” system, except for medical negligence cases. This means 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.

Providing uniform standards to assist juries in calculating the accurate value of medical damages in personal injury or wrongful death actions.

Modifying Florida’s “bad faith” framework to:

  • Allow an insurer to avoid third-party bad faith liability by tendering the policy limits or the amount demanded by the claimant within 120 days after receiving actual notice of the claim.
  • Clarify that negligence alone is not enough to demonstrate bad faith.
  • Require a claimant to act in good faith with respect to furnishing information, making demands, setting deadlines, and attempting to settle the insurance claim.
  • Allow an insurer, when there are multiple claimants in a single action, to limit the insurer’s bad faith liability by paying the total amount of the policy limits at the outset.

Providing that Florida’s one-way attorney fee provisions for insurance cases only apply in limited situations.

Requiring triers of fact in certain negligent security actions to consider the fault of all persons who contributed to the injury, establishing a presumption against negligent security liability in specified situations and expanding immunity for a property owner defending a lawsuit against a criminal actor who is injured on the property.

Finally, it is important to understand that despite being presented as necessary to stop unscrupulous claimants and lawyers from manipulating the legal system, HB 837 applies to all lawsuits, not just the frivolous ones. Will its reforms produce the desired results? Time will tell. In the meantime, our team is available to discuss how these reforms may affect your personal and commercial property insurance coverages.