Florida Courts Inundated by Wave of New Lawsuits as Sweeping Tort Reform Appears Imminent
Tampa, Fla. (March 22, 2023) – Plaintiffs’ attorneys throughout Florida are rushing to file lawsuits in anticipation of sweeping tort reform legislation. It has been reported that some plaintiffs’ firms in the Sunshine State have filed hundreds – and in some cases thousands – of new lawsuits this week ahead of the potential enactment of the bill. It has also been reported that this record number of new suits being filed is causing difficulty and failures in some court computer systems.
These plaintiffs’ attorneys are panicked by HB 837. This bill will potentially provide the most radical tort reform the state has seen in several decades. The specific revisions to civil litigation are dramatic. For instance, the statute of limitations would be cut in half, from four years to two years. Additionally, insurance carriers would be immune from claims of bad faith if they tender the limits within 90 days of notice of a claim. Carriers will also enjoy numerous new protections from bad faith litigation even where there is no tender in the first 90 days.
HB 837’s Impact on Recovery of Medical Bills in Litigation
Perhaps most sweeping, the bill seeks to place limitations on the recovery of medical bills. As readers may already be aware, doctors friendly with plaintiffs’ attorneys have used letters of protection to plague defendants and insurance carriers for decades in Florida. There has been little, if any, protection afforded to those who get sued, and these doctors have been allowed to charge (or at least claim to charge) whatever they want in litigation. Indeed, Lewis Brisbois’ attorneys have seen doctors charging $90,000 for a procedure that should legitimately cost $10,000. These mark-ups are common in Florida.
HB 837 would put an end to this abuse of the system. First, juries would hear evidence only of the amount paid and not the gross amount before write-offs, regardless of the source of payment. Currently, Florida juries hear the gross amount for private insurance and the net amount for Medicare. Second, for medical bills, HB 837 limits evidence to include: (1) if the plaintiff has private health insurance, the amount that the plaintiff’s medical insurer is obligated to pay plus any co-pay (whether or not the bills are submitted to the insurance); or (2) if the plaintiff does not have private health insurance or has Medicare or Medicaid, the amount is limited to 120% of Medicare’s reimbursement rate or, where there is no Medicare rate, 170% of Medicaid’s reimbursement rate. This applies to past and future medical treatment. There is also a provision for situations in which past medical bills are sold to a third-party collection vendor. The bill would allow for evidence of those sold-off medical bills and the amount paid by the third-party vendor.
Furthermore, the bill provides that a jury has the right to hear evidence about the relationship between a plaintiff’s attorney and any doctor to whom they refer their client under a letter of protection. This information includes the financial relationship between the doctor and the attorney, the number of such referrals, the frequency of such referrals, and the financial benefit obtained. Currently, Florida courts have held that plaintiffs’ attorneys can receive this type of information as it relates to experts for the defense, but defense attorneys do not receive similar information regarding such doctor-witnesses who routinely testify for plaintiffs. This change would level the playing field and provide a more accurate picture to juries.
Florida’s proposed tort reform bill would have sweeping effects on such litigation and has already created apparent alarm among plaintiffs’ attorneys throughout the state. We will continue to monitor the recent deluge of filings in the state’s courts and how court administrators respond to the spike in cases. For more information on this bill, contact the author of this alert or visit our General Liability Practice page to find an attorney in your area.
John A. Rine, Managing Partner - Tampa, FL
John RineManaging Partner