On March 24, the governor signed HB 837.
This law changes many aspects of the civil litigation system as it relates to personal injury and insurance claims.
Among other modifications, the new law shortens the statute of limitations from four years to two years in the majority of negligence cases. It requires that a plaintiff prove that they were less than 50% at fault for the injuries sustained, mandates that the criminal be placed on the verdict form in a civil trial in which negligent security is alleged, and restructures the manner in which medical expenses are to be presented at trial.
Interestingly, the law provides an insurance company with immunity from a bad faith action in a multiple claimant case under certain conditions.
The new Florida Statute s. 624.155(6) states:
“an insurer is not liable beyond the available policy limits for failure to pay all or any portion of the available policy limits to one or more of the third-party claimants if, within 90 days after receiving notice of the competing claims in excess of the available policy limits, the insurer complies with either paragraph [the filing of an interpleader action with the court] or pursuant to binding arbitration that has been agreed to by the insurer and the third-party claimants, the insurer makes the entire amount of the policy limits available for payment to the competing third-party claimants before a qualified arbitrator agreed to by the insurer and such third-party claimants at the expense of the insurer.”
On Nov. 15, 2022, Chief Judge Jack Tuter of the 17th Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida issued Administrative Order 2022-49-CIV requiring mandatory nonbinding arbitration in every case involving water damage.
Pursuant to this AO, if a case does not settle at mediation, it is mandatory for all parties in that case to participate in non-binding arbitration. The NBA hearing must be completed no later than 45 days before the Calendar Call for the trial.
What Is Binding Arbitration?
Florida Statute s. 44.104 and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.830 regulate the substantive and procedural rights for your client. You must read these very carefully. Note that the filing of an application for binding arbitration will toll the running of the applicable statute of limitations. Importantly, the Florida Evidence Code will apply in a binding arbitration and the parties have a right to subpoena records and have witnesses sworn in at the hearing. The hearing may be transcribed and used in subsequent proceedings. If the parties have chosen an arbitration panel, all arbitrators may equally conduct the arbitration process, but a majority may determine any disputed question. Importantly, the final decision is to be made by majority vote, so unanimity is not required. The binding arbitration decision must be provided within 10 days after the hearing ends and thereafter any party can seek to enforce the decision by filing a petition for a final judgment.
Remember that “binding” means just that: The parties are bound by the decision as if it was a verdict. Unlike nonbinding arbitration, there is no option for filing a motion for trial de novo after a binding arbitration. A party can file an appeal of the decision to the circuit court within 30 days. This appeal is limited to “review of the record and not de novo.”
The only issues that may be reviewed by the circuit court are as to the arbitrator’s handling of the proceedings, any alleged partiality or misconduct by the arbitrator, and whether the decision reaches a result that violates the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the state of Florida. Suffice it to say, it is a very limited review.
Let’s start with Senate Bill 1416. This bill alters how alimony will be adjudicated in Florida for all divorce filings that are filed or pending on or after July 1, 2023, as well as petitions to modify previous alimony orders.
Permanent alimony is now a thing of the past in Florida. This eliminates the permanent alimony element. This leaves temporary, bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, and durational alimony in place.
Bridge-the-gap can be up to two years, rehabilitative can be up to five years, and durational cannot last longer than 50% the duration of a marriage between 3-10 years, 60% the duration of a marriage between 11-20 years, and 75% of marriages lasting longer than 20 years. Couples married for less than three years are no longer eligible for alimony.
Much of the public support for this bill came from Floridians who are paying alimony but are at or above the retirement age. Part of this new law allows those payers to file for a modification of the previous alimony order when they are ready for retirement. Judges can reduce or terminate the alimony after receiving the petition by considering the customary retirement age, economic impact, and the impact reducing or eliminating alimony would have on the recipient.
Contrary to some reports, Florida remains a no-fault divorce state. However, adultery and its economic impacts will now be considered in calculating alimony payments.
House Bill 775 authorizes the father of a child born out of wedlock to establish paternity and makes changes to time-sharing schedules.
Supports suggest this allows unmarried fathers to assume the same role and responsibilities as married fathers, thus providing more for the children in question.
This law makes it so these fathers do not have to go through a court battle to establish paternity and earn custody rights. Instead, the father gets these rights as long as he and the child’s mother sign a voluntary agreement acknowledging paternity. When both parties sign the child’s birth certificate they are also signing an acknowledgement of paternity.
Doing so provides a 50/50 split in responsibilities and rights to decisions including healthcare, education, visitation, and other matters for the child. Previously, Florida did not have an assumed 50/50 time split for parents.