Major changes for Florida civil liability and bad faith laws find unanimous support from the Governor and the legislature

By Scott Newman and Jedidiah Vander Klok

On February 14, 2023, Florida’s Governor, the President of the Florida Senate and the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives jointly appeared at a press conference to express their dissatisfaction with the state of certain aspects of Florida’s civil justice system and to announce a pre-filed bill for the upcoming legislative session, HB 837. The bill’s proposed changes are likely to benefit small businesses, large corporations and insurers alike, and would represent a substantial shift in the landscape for insurance coverage, third-party bad faith, and insurance defense law in Florida.

HB 837 would eliminate one-way attorneys’ fees and attorney fee multipliers for all lines of coverage, including surplus lines insurers. The Governor stated that the elimination of one-way attorneys’ fees would curb “activist attorneys” who prolong litigation to increase their ultimate recovery of attorneys’ fees. This follows on the heels of the bill passed in December of 2022, which eliminated one-way attorneys’ fees claims for property insurance cases and prohibited “Assignment of Benefits” agreements between insureds and contractors (which allowed the contractors to sue insurers directly).  

While parties could still seek to shift fees through service of proposals for settlement, the legislation would also overturn a recent Florida Supreme Court decision that had substantially broadened the circumstances under which a contingency fee multiplier could be awarded. Instead, the legislation would instead codify a presumption that the lodestar fee is sufficient, with multipliers only being available in “rare and exceptional” circumstances.