Judges Question Challenges Brought to Florida’s No Fault Insurance Law

September 20, 2013

A three-judge panel from the 1st District Court of Appeals expressed their reservations Tuesday about a challenge made by acupuncturists, massage therapists and chiropractors to key parts of Florida’s 2012 landmark reform of the personal-injury protection (PIP) auto insurance law, The News Service of Florida reports.

In the hearing, the three judges questioned how the modifications to the longstanding no-fault insurance system have diminished individual medical coverage or court access, as the Florida PIP Defense Fund and its representatives contend.

In the hearing, the three judges questioned the Florida PIP Defense Fund’s assertions that modifications to the longstanding no-fault insurance system have diminished individual medical coverage or court access.

The FL PIP Defense Fund named acupuncturist Robin Myers, chiropractor Gregory Zwirn and massage therapists Sherry Smith and Carrie Damaska as plaintiffs in the suit, as well as “Jane Doe,” which is being seen as a tactic by The Fund to qualify for standing in the case and represent individuals injured by motor-vehicle collisions.

According to Judge T. Kent Wetherell, this is not a real lawsuit, but a situation where an individual makes a claim against their own insurance company because many accidents conclude with no driver being found ‘at fault.’

The judges expressed a desire to expedite a ruling, but no timeline was given for a decision on the state’s request to overturn a temporary injunction that was imposed on certain parts of the law in March.

The 2012 reform law signed by Gov. Rick Scott requires those involved in motor vehicle crashes to seek treatment within 14 days, allows up to $10,000 in benefits for emergency medical conditions and $2,500 for non-emergency conditions. Scott and state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater championed the 2012 reforms to reduce fraud in auto insurance, which they say costs motorists almost $1 billion a year through the increased costs of coverage.

The alternative is to replace the system with bodily-injury insurance, which could put more questions of medical coverage into the courts as injured parties seek to recoup expenses from at-fault motorists.

A bodily-injury insurance system is the most likely PIP alternative if further change is sought. This would push more medical coverage questions into the courts, since injured parties would seek to establish fault for expense reimbursement purposes.

If PIP is eliminated, Wetherell notes, challengers to the law would face a similar economic impact and future.

In March, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis sided with the challenge to sections of the law, criticizing it for depriving individuals of getting the medical care that they need.

Adam Levine, an attorney representing the FL PIP Defense Fund, praised Lewis for considering issues bigger than economic impacts, but Florida Solicitor General Allen Winsor said Lewis failed to determine that the law is unconstitutional.

The insurance industry has generally supported the changes to the law.

Reform efforts are being delayed as a result of the injunction, according to Donovan Brown, state government relations counsel for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“In order to address fraud and abuse within Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system and provide Floridians relief from being the number one state in the nation for questionable auto claims, it is imperative that consumers receive the benefit of the PIP reforms becoming fully effective,” Brown said in The News Service of Florida article.