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LEGISLATIVE ALERT – HB837 – Tort Reform and Building Security from Crime

HB837 was signed by the Governor on March 24, 2023.It presents one of the most significant legislative tort reform efforts in Florida over the last 50 years.Let's look at some of the key features which impact Florida condominium and homeowners' associations.

Statute of Limitations on Negligence Claims

HB837 shortens Florida's statute of limitation on lawsuits for negligence claims from four to two years.Negligence lawsuits are typically claims for personal injury or property damage resulting from things like car accidents, slips and falls, and construction site accidents.If either the association or someone else has been damaged or injured from an accident on association property, the time to commence a lawsuit on that claim is now much shorter.Unfortunately, associations might see a rush by others to file lawsuits against an association for accidents that have occurred on association property within the last two years.WHAT CAN YOU DO?If your association has sustained property damage due to the negligent conduct of someone else, you should confer with legal counsel right away.A lawsuit on your behalf may need to be filed quickly.In the case of any recent on-site accident, gather and preserve all records relating to the accident.Adopt procedures for future documentation of the date, place and circumstances of any accidents occurring on-site.

Modified Comparative Negligence

Florida was a pure comparative negligence state.This meant that in a typical accident case a jury could apportion fault between all of the parties, and a claimant's damages would be reduced by the proportionate share of the claimant's own fault for the accident.Now, however, if the claimant is found to be more than 50% at fault, the claimant cannot recover damages.WHAT CAN YOU DO?This is a situation where solid recordkeeping can be key.Inspection reports, video surveillance data, incident reports, and notes taken at or near the time of the accident can all be valuable and admissible evidence in demonstrating that an injured claimant was more than 50% at fault for an accident while on association property.Going forward, having solid procedures for routine grounds inspections and reporting, incident reporting and accident documentation is critical.

Multi-Family Residential Building Safety Against Crime

Associations with multi-family residential buildings with at least five dwelling units can now greatly increase their protection from lawsuits emanating from criminal conduct on-site.By instituting certain security measures, these associations can create a "presumption against liability" for personal injuries or property damage suffered by residents, guests and association employees as a result of crimes committed by anyone other than association employees and agents.The security measures include: (1) installing security cameras at all points of entry and exit which record and maintains 30-days of retrievable footage; (2) well-lit parking lots from dusk until dawn; (3) 1-inch deadbolts on each dwelling unit door; (4) locking devices on windows and sliders; (5) locked access to pools; (5) peephole viewers on solid dwelling unit doors; (6) obtaining a "crime prevention through environmental design assessment" performed by a qualified assessor by January 1, 2025; (7) by January 1, 2025, providing "proper" crime deterrence and safety training to all existing building employees; and (8) after January 1, 2025, providing such training to all new employees within 60 days of hire.WHAT CAN YOU DO?This new legislation puts significantly more power in the hands of association boards and managers to shield their communities from liability for injuries caused by criminal conduct.However, some of these measures, especially relating to locking devices and peepholes on unit windows and doors, do present some obstacles.Many associations exclude unit windows and doors from an association's maintenance obligation; therefore, some decisions may need to be made with regard to amending governing documents to either include these items or to require unit owners to implement and maintain these features themselves.Furthermore, since certain safety assessments need to be performed by independent assessors it is advisable to implement these safety measures and arrange for the inspections well before the deadline of January 1, 2025.

    Conclusion

HB837 provides community associations with significant relief from claims for property damage or personal injuries resulting from accidents or criminal activity on-site.We've provided a general summary of the portions of this law which should be important to community associations.Like any legislation, the devil is in the details and we recommend that association boards and management consult with general counsel to gain a fuller understanding of how these provisions will impact the governance and operation of their communities.