From the Florida Insurance Council:

(This is another in FIC’s special reports on the key insurance issues expected during the 2014 session beginning Tuesday.)

Following on the successful passage of expert evidence/ medical liability legislation last year, the Florida Legislature is expected to consider a limited tort reform agenda during the 2014 Session.

Below is a brief description of the issues and the bills relating to them.

Fair Settlement Act

These measures establish a safe harbor for third-party bad faith claims. First, the insurer must receive a written notice of loss as a condition precedent to a third-party bad faith claim. Then, if the insurer provides the limits of liability disclosure under s. 627.4137, F.S., and tenders the demand or policy limits within 45 days of the notice, the insurer is not liable for bad faith under the statutes or common law.

HB 187 by Representative Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples), is referred to the House Civil Justice and Insurance & Banking Subcommittees, and the Judiciary Committee. The companion bill, SB 1494 by Senator John Thrasher (R-Jacksonville), has not yet received committee references.

Accuracy in Damages

These measures address phantom damages in jury awards in three key issues:

•    Billed charges versus paid charges for medical expenses. Now, juries only see billed medical charges, although post-judgment, judges can reduce those charges for collateral source set-offs like health insurance.
•    Letters of Protection. This is an agreement between the plaintiff’s lawyer and the medical provider, where the provider agrees not to collect until the lawsuit is over. The jury sees the inflated charges, and the amount that the provider would normally have accepted is not even available to be considered by the judge for set-off.
•    Medically unnecessary treatments. Defendants cannot practically present evidence to a jury, because juries would then receive a “Stuart instruction” to consider the unnecessary treatment as medical malpractice, for which the defendant would still be liable.

SB 1128 by Senator Garrett Richter (R-Naples) is referred to the Senate Judiciary, Health Policy, and Banking & Insurance Committees. HB 379 by Representative Dave Hood (R-Daytona Beach) is referred to the House Civil Justice Subcommittee and the Judiciary Committee.

Other Legislation

Senator Thrasher is also sponsoring a nursing home litigation bill, SB 670 (the companion is HB 569 by Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Ft. Walton Beach), that was amended in the Senate Health Policy Committee on February 18th with the substance of a tentative agreement between nursing homes and the trial bar. Among other provisions, in return for better protections for passive investors, the bill provides plaintiffs with better access to records.

Senator Thrasher has also filed SB 1492 to state that the statutory caps on punitive damages passed in the 1999 omnibus tort reform act apply to all non-final civil actions regardless of when the cause of action arose.