House Bill 837 was signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on March 24, 2023. The law makes significant changes to Florida’s tort law. Some of the key provisions include the following:
· Amends Section 57.104, Florida Statutes such that “there is a strong presumption that a lodestar fee is sufficient and reasonable. This presumption may be overcome only in a rare and exceptional circumstance with evidence that competent counsel could not otherwise be retained.” Thus, it is harder to get an award of a multiplier of attorney’s fees. For example, if the lodestar indicates that the reasonable attorney’s fee is $100,000, a party cannot recover a multiple of $100,000 (for example, a 3x multiplier would yield fees of $300,000) unless it is a “rare and exceptional circumstance” in which the party could not have otherwise obtained a competent lawyer.
· Creates Section 86.121, Florida Statutes, pertaining to declaratory actions to determine insurance coverage after an insurance company denies a claim. In this type of action, the Court may award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. The right to obtain such fees cannot be transferred to anyone other than the insured or a named beneficiary. This law does not apply to residential or commercial property insurance policies.
· Amends Section 95.11 such that the statute of limitations for a negligence claim is reduced from four years to two years.
· Substantially reforms Florida’s insurance bad faith law.
· Provides that proposals for settlement are applicable to civil actions involving an insurance contract.
· Creates Section 768.0427 concerning the admissibility of evidence to prove medical expenses in personal injury and wrongful death actions.
· Creates Section 768.0701, Florida Statutes concerning premises liability. In an action brought by someone who was injured by a criminal on someone else’s commercial or real property, the jury must consider the fault of all persons who contributed to the injury, including the criminal.
· Creates Section 768.0706, Florida Statutes concerning the safety and security at multifamily residential property. If the owner or operator of a multifamily residential property, such as an apartment building or condominium, implements certain security measures, then the owner or operator “has a presumption against liability in connection with criminal acts that occur on the premises which are committed by third parties[.]”
· Amends Section 768.81, Florida Statutes such that if a party is found be more than 50% at fault for her own harm, then she may not recover damages. This does not apply to medical negligence actions.
Will these changes impact cases filed before the bill was enacted into law?
The short answer is “no.” The Bill provides that it applies to causes of action after the effective date of the act. Thus, it should apply only to lawsuits filed after March 24, 2023. The change to the statute of limitations for negligence actions applies to causes of action accruing after March 24, 2023. Thus, the law will not apply retroactively.