There was a reason motorcyclists were motivated by the hundreds in a show of political might to cram into the Florida Capitol building last month: Tort reform.
The controversial bill (House version HB 837 and Senate version SB 236) was fast-tracked through the legislature and signed by the governor within hours of it hitting his desk. It undercuts a laundry list of rights for personal injury plaintiffs – but those in Florida motorcycle accidents will suffer a particularly outsized impact.
Essentially, the measure imposes sweeping limitations on Florida lawsuits, most of those broadly and unapologetically shielding insurers and big businesses from payouts in injury cases – at the expense of those most seriously hurt. Many of the motorcyclists who turned up to protest, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, are “diehard, staunch DeSantis supporters, Trump supporters, and lifelong Republicans.” But as several of them noted, “This is bad for everyone.”
What exactly is the change motorcyclists are most upset about? The shift in the comparative fault standard.
As our Fort Lauderdale motorcycle accident lawyers can explain, for years under F.S. 768.81, Florida followed a system of pure comparative fault. Essentially, that means everyone is responsible for their own share of the fault. If you are hurt in a car accident and are 40 percent responsible for what happened, you can still hold the other driver accountable for their 60 percent share of the blame. In a pure comparative fault standard system, this fair share liability principal goes all the way to 99%/1%. So if a plaintiff is 99 percent liable and the defendant 1 percent, the plaintiff can still collect on that 1 percent in damages. (That’s not an ideal outcome, of course, and injury lawyers paid on a contingency fee basis were already less likely to take on weaker cases for this reason, as they are paid a portion of the damages ultimately paid out. This is one of the reasons the argument about “frivolous lawsuits” being problematic holds little water. It’s not easy to win – or get paid – for a Florida injury lawsuit that isn’t strong on its merits.)
This new law turns pure comparative fault on its head. Now, Florida has a standard of modified comparative fault with a 51 percent bar. This means that if the plaintiff is more than 50 percent responsible for their injuries, they can’t collect a dime from the other at-fault party. So if the other driver is 49 percent at-fault, they pay nothing. The financial burden rests solely with plaintiffs.
Why do motorcyclists care so much?
Because a motorcyclist can be faulted for their own head injuries if they don’t wear a helmet. Continue reading