Florida Legislature Enacts Sweeping Personal Injury Reforms

On March 24, 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a far-reaching tort reform bill into law. The new law enacts several major changes to the Florida negligence liability system, the standard for bad-faith insurance claims, and the use of contingency-fee multipliers when calculating attorneys’ fees. Each of these changes directly influences how plaintiffs are able to pursue their claims in Florida moving forward. The announcement of the changes triggered a rush to the courthouses with negligence lawsuits in advance of its effective date, suggesting that the bill will curtain the overall tort liability landscape throughout the state.

Modified Comparative Negligence

The headline of the changes enacted by the Florida tort reform bill is the statewide shift from a pure comparative negligence system to a modified comparative negligence system. Under the old pure comparative negligence system, a plaintiff could recover an amount in proportion to the defendants’ percentage of responsibility for the plaintiff’s injuries regardless of the plaintiff’s liability. In practice, that meant that if a defendant was 30% responsible for a plaintiff’s injuries, the plaintiff could recover 30% of the damages associated with the injury from the defendant, even if the plaintiff was 70% liable. Under the old system, the plaintiff had four years to file a negligence lawsuit.

Under the new system, a plaintiff is able to recover in proportion to the defendants’ percentage of responsibility only if the plaintiff’s own share of responsibility is 50% or less. Meaning that if a plaintiff is more than 50% liable, the plaintiff cannot recover from the defendant. Additionally, the plaintiff has two years to file a negligence lawsuit, not four.

Bad-Faith Insurance Claims

The new bill also alters bad-faith insurer liability, clarifying that negligence alone is insufficient to constitute insurance bad faith. Further, the bill imposes on insureds a duty to act in good faith when furnishing information regarding their claim, making demands of an insurer, setting deadlines, and attempting to settle a claim. The new bill also creates a safe harbor from bad-faith liability if a liability insurer tenders the lesser of the policy limits or the amount demanded by the claimant within 90 days after receiving actual notice of a claim accompanied by sufficient evidence to support its amount. The bill tolls the statute of limitations to allow a plaintiff to bring a claim if payment is still refused after 90 days, and provides similar safe harbors for insurers facing competing claims from multiple third parties arising from a single occurrence that, in total, exceeds policy limits. As a result of these safe harbors, an insurer can avoid bad-faith liability by making use of interpleader or arbitration procedures laid out by the bill.

Fee Agreements

Finally, the new bill also repeals prior Florida law that allowed insureds to recover attorneys’ fees when successful in certain insurance coverage disputes. From now on, insureds, omnibus insureds, and named beneficiaries can only recover attorneys’ fees in actions for declaratory relief to determine insurance coverage after an insurer has completely denied coverage for a claim unless another basis for fees exists.

Have You Suffered Injuires Related to a Car Accident in Florida?

If you or someone you love has suffered an injury in Florida, the personal injury lawyers at Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada can help you understand your rights and the remedies available to you under Florida law. Our team of attorneys has successfully advocated for injured individuals throughout Florida for 46 years. Expenses from injuries and accidents can quickly become overwhelming, and having an experienced roster of attorneys by your side can make a world of difference for your claim. Make sure that you make the most out of your claim and get the award that you deserve. Contact our team at 305-448-8585 to schedule a free and no-obligation initial consultation with a Florida lawyer at our office.

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