Florida Governor Signs Sweeping Tort Reform Bill Into Law

On March 24, 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law HB 837/SB 236, which is now in effect and will significantly impact tort cases.

This new law contains numerous changes to give insurers and other businesses greater protections against lawsuits.

  • The statute of limitations for general negligence cases is reduced from four years to two years, with an exception for plaintiffs serving active duty military.
  • Limitations are placed on the evidence admissible to prove the amount of damages for past or future medical care, with a greater focus on amounts actually paid or obliged to be paid in the future.
  • Florida's comparative fault regime goes from a "pure" regime to a "modified" regime, meaning that a plaintiff found more than 50% at fault for the injuries claimed may not recover any damages. However, this change will not apply to medical negligence claims.
  • A strong presumption is established that a lodestar fee based only on rates and hours (and not on any contingency multiplier) is a sufficient and reasonable measure of attorney fees.
  • Revisions eliminate an insured's statutory entitlement to recover attorney fees upon prevailing against an insurer, except in actions for declaratory judgments to determine coverage.
  • Juries deliberating in premises liability cases are permitted to consider the fault of all people who contributed to an injury, including a nonparty who injured the plaintiff by committing a crime on the defendant's property.

The amendment to the statute of limitations provision will apply prospectively to causes of action accruing after the date the bill becomes effective. The remaining provisions will apply to claims filed after the bill's effective date (March 24, 2023).

The new law's full impact will not be known until these changes have had a chance to work their way through the court system, but it is likely to have considerable implications for Florida's civil justice system.

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