What Florida HB 837 Means for Personal Injury Lawyers

What Florida HB 837 Means for Personal Injury LawyersOn March 24, 2023, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed off on FL HB 837 which is aimed at decreasing frivolous lawsuits and preventing the alleged predatory practices of trial lawyers who make the hard-working residents of the Sunshine State their purported victims.

  • The legislation changes the rules involving bad faith by insurers attacks one-way legal fees along with fee multipliers.
  • It also assures that residents can’t be held liable for damages by eliminating pure comparative negligence.
  • It also expands immunity for property owners who defend against criminals who are injured on their property.
  • Finally, it provides guidelines for juries in calculating medical damages while cutting the statute of limitation for injuries in negligence cases in half from four years to two years.

Medical Bills:

Most notably, the new law changes how medical damages will be presented to juries. The legislation states that damages can be manipulated and inflated, and don’t actually show the actual costs. A uniform process for the adding up the damages in the amount actually paid for medical services will be used as opposed to the initially billed amount which may be inflated. On this basis alone, damages awarded in personal injury cases will be drastically reduced, saving insurance companies hundreds of millions of dollars.

Disclosure of Letters of Protection:

These communications are often sent by the injured client’s attorney to health care providers promising to protect the client’s bill from any sums derived from suit or settlement. In return, the attorney seeks appropriate treatment for the client. Insurers claim that the attorney will often use such letters to put excessive medical services before a jury, claiming them to be reasonable and necessary,  only to negotiate those bills down substantially. Under the new law, an injured litigant who is seeking treatment from a health care provider pursuant to a letter of protection from his or her attorney must disclose the following to the jury:

  • A copy of the letter of protection.
  • Itemized bills for medical expenses with current billing codes.
  • Whether the injured party had medical insurance. If so, the name of the provider must be disclosed.
  • If the injured party was referred pursuant to a letter of protection, the name of the person or attorney referring the person. If the referral was made by the claimant’s attorney, disclosure of the referral is permitted, and evidence of the referral becomes admissible.
  • If the accounts receivable were sold, the name of the buyer and the amount they were sold for.

Past Medical Bills:

The act limits of past paid medical bills to the amount actually paid, regardless of the source. If the injured party has health care coverage, evidence of any reimbursement obligation to the insurer by the injured party is admissible. If the injured party has health care insurance, but chooses to pay a provider for health services pursuant to a letter of protection, only evidence of the amount that coverage would reimburse him or her would be admissible. If he or she doesn’t have health insurance, evidence of 120% of the effective Medicare reimbursement rate at the time services were rendered would be admissible. If there is no Medicare rate, 170% of the Medicare rate is admissible. Then, if services were rendered in accordance with a letter of protection, and the medical bill was sold to a third party, the amount that the third party agreed to pay is admissible at trial.

Future Medical Bills:

If the injured person has medical insurance or is eligible for it, only evidence of the amount would be satisfied with, including the patient’s share is admissible. If he or she doesn’t have health insurance, through Medicare or Medicaid, or is eligible for the coverage, evidence of 120% of the reimbursement rate at time of trial is admissible. If there is no Medicare rate, the rate is set at 170%.

Changes to Bad Faith Laws:

The new law also changes bad faith laws. Insurance companies must now be given 120 days from the date of a claim to correct their actions. Now, written notice of the error must be given before the insurance company even needs to look at the claim. This purportedly gives the insurer sufficient time to correct an error.

The damages award to an injured party at the time of trial would be limited to the actual costs of medical treatment, along with other damages. This effectively wipes out the collateral source rule (Florida Statute Section 768.76). It won’t lower the costs of insurance though as they continue to climb. It also allows a jury to learn if the injured party’s attorney referred him or her to a certain doctor and that attorney’s dealings with the doctor, making both the attorney and the doctor appear to be working in collusion with each other against the insurance company. Thanks, Gov. DeSantis. The innocently injured party, his or her doctors and attorney are now the bad guys.