On March 24, 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill passed by the Florida Legislature aimed at limiting the rights of individuals from seeking and obtaining civil redress in the courts for personal injuries. The bill is House Bill 837. Parts of the bill became effective when it was signed by DeSantis. It will change many existing laws in dramatic ways.
Statute of Limitations. The most obvious change is to limit the time period during which a personal injury case can be filed from four years to two years. This time limitation is known as the statute of limitations. Claims filed after the SOL period will be time-barred.
It is not unusual for individuals involved in accidents to wait years before deciding to pursue a claim. The reasons for delaying are varied but include not knowing a claim can be brought, personal disruption caused by the incident, injury recovery time, an ideological opposition to involving the civil justice system, and bad legal advice.
Proponents of the reduced statute of limitations period are seeking to limit the number of lawsuits that are filed. The opposite may happen. Most personal injury cases are resolved without a lawsuit being filed. Even in cases where a remedy is sought within two years of the incident, it is not unusual for those cases to be resolved without a lawsuit well after two years from the incident date. Reasons for this include injury healing time and ongoing negotiations.
Because of the shortened time period, lawsuits will have to be filed in many cases simply to preserve the right to a remedy even if the case would otherwise resolve amicably without filing. Once a lawsuit is filed, the contingency fee payable by the plaintiff upon recovery rises and the cost of handling the case increases. These factors make it more difficult to settle out of court.
Bottom line: the goal of limiting lawsuits by shortening the SOL will be offset by lawsuits having to be filed to keep from being time-barred. While some people will lose out on a remedy by going over the SOL, the legal system will not see a reduced burden. Hence, the measure is a net negative.