On March 24, 2023, Governor DeSantis signed HB 837 into law after passing in both the House and the Senate with significant majorities. Effective immediately, the law brings major changes to future accident and injury claims in the state of Florida. The impact of these changes is so significant that reportedly thousands of lawsuits were filed between the time the bill passed the Senate and it was signed into law by the Governor. As a result, if you have been injured, it is arguably more important than ever to contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss your rights and your options.
A New Statute of Limitations
Every state has deadlines by which lawsuits must be filed in personal injury cases, referred to as “statutes of limitations.” The deadlines can vary by the type of case - for example, the deadline in a wrongful death case may be different from an injury claim arising from a car accident. Understanding how the statute of limitations applies to your case is critical because you will lose all of your rights if you do not file your lawsuit before the deadline expires.
Florida previously had a four-year statute of limitations in most personal injury cases based on negligence. Under the new law, there is now a two-year statute of limitations in general negligence cases. While the change is certainly controversial, Florida joins 44 other states that have statutes of limitations of less than four years in negligence cases.
This is a major change that could have a profound impact on accident victims. If you have been waiting to file your lawsuit, we recommend that you contact a lawyer immediately before you lose your rights.
Changes to the Contributory Negligence Standard
Another major change pertains to cases where both parties to the claim may have been negligent. Until HB 837, Florida applied what is known as the “pure comparative negligence” standard. Under the pure comparative negligence standard, the plaintiff’s compensation is reduced in the amount by which their negligence contributed to the accident, even if they are more than 50% responsible for the accident.
HB 837 implements what is known as a “modified comparative negligence” standard that is followed in many other states. The principal feature of the modified comparative negligence standard is that parties who are more than 50% responsible for causing an accident are barred from recovering any compensation. An example may help illustrate the difference between the two standards:
- Adam runs a stop sign because he is driving drunk. As a result, he gets into an accident with a motorcycle rider, Diane. It is determined that Diane could have avoided the accident but she was speeding. Adam decides to sue Diane for his injuries. A jury determines that Adam’s negligence contributed 70% to the accident.
- Under the pure comparative negligence standard, Adam could still recover compensation from Diane. If the jury found he was entitled to $100,000 in compensation, it would therefore be reduced by 70%, meaning that he would recover $30,000.
- Under the modified comparative negligence standard, Adam would not be entitled to any compensation because his negligence contributed to the accident by more than 50%.
The changes in the law do not change the fact that this is an affirmative defense to be raised by the defendant who must prove two things:
- That the plaintiff was, in fact, negligent; and
- The plaintiff’s negligence contributed to causing the accident.
As a result, do not assume that you do not have a claim due to this change in the law. An experienced personal injury attorney can review your case and determine whether you have a claim.
Medical Damages Will Be Calculated Differently
One of the biggest changes brought about by the new law will involve how medical damages will be calculated in personal injury cases. HB 837 intends to promote transparency and provide uniform standards in the calculation of current and future medical expenses with the following measures:
- By requiring the disclosure of any letters of protection, whether the injured party was referred to treatment under such letter, and who made the referral
- By limiting the scope of admissible evidence to prove current and future medical expenses
- By requiring the injured party to disclose whether they had health insurance at the time of the accident
- By limiting evidence of current and future medical expenses to what has actually been paid and/or the maximum that would be paid by insurance
The above is only a brief summary of this aspect of the law - the specific details as to how it will apply to specific details is quite complex. For example, the evidence allowed to prove your future medical expenses will depend on what type of insurance the injured party has (i.e. insurance other than Medicare or Medicaid) or whether they have any health insurance at all.
Overall, it is important to emphasize that these changes are focused on reducing the amount of damages that are awarded to plaintiffs in personal injury cases. More than ever, injured Floridians will need a strong and aggressive advocate on their side to ensure that they get the compensation they need to rebuild their lives.
Bad Faith Claims
One of the most troubling aspects of HB 837 involves the elimination of attorney’s fees for plaintiffs pursuing bad faith claims against their insurers. Previously, for example, a plaintiff whose insurance company refused to pay their claim in bad faith could be sued for the amount of their claim plus their attorney’s fees. Under HB 837, plaintiffs still have a claim for bad faith but cannot seek recovery of their attorney’s fees.
While the actual impact remains to be seen, there are valid concerns that insurance companies are not financially incentivized to deny claims and lowball subsequent claims for bad faith. In other words, the threat of having to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees in a bad faith claim guarded against widespread bad faith.
Talk to a Personal Injury Lawyer at Powell, Powell, & Powell Today
Whether you have fallen on someone else’s property or have been involved in a truck accident, you need to take immediate action to protect your rights. Contact us today at 850-682-2757 to discuss how these changes in the law might affect your case.