Since 1976, Florida law has required that all vehicle owners purchase personal injury protection insurance coverage. Personal injury protection (commonly called “PIP”) coverage provides medical and lost wage benefits for people injured in car accidents. PIP coverage, also referred to a “no-fault” coverage, applies to injuries suffered by the vehicle owner and occupants in the vehicle regardless of fault. In other words, your own auto insurer pays for up to $10,000.00 for your medical expenses and lost wages even if another driver was at fault for causing the car accident.
By requiring these benefits, Florida’s PIP statute prevents injured persons from seeking reimbursement for pain and suffering unless the person suffered a permanent injury, the loss of an “important bodily function,” significant scarring, or death. In other words, if you suffered injuries in a car accident but eventually returned to normal, an at fault driver and his or her auto insurance company are only obligated to pay any unpaid medical bills or lost wages.
Concerns have arisen that PIP has provided fertile ground for insurance fraud by medical providers and unscrupulous accident “victims” charging for unnecessary medical care. The cost for PIP coverage, which can duplicate health insurance benefits that most Floridians now have, was also a concern.
During Florida’s most recent legislative session, House Bill 461 was introduced to repeal and replace Florida’s PIP law. Instead of requiring PIP coverage, the bill, if enacted as law, would require that every vehicle owner carry bodily injury coverage of $25,000.00 per person and $50,000.00 in aggregate bodily injury coverage if two or more persons are injured. Currently, Florida law does not require that vehicle owners carry any bodily injury coverage at all. It was estimated that, if enacted, repealing PIP would save Florida car owners approximately $80.00 annually.
Florida personal injury car accident lawyers are mixed on the idea. The existing PIP framework allows for injured persons to have their medical expenses and lost wages paid. This makes it easier for them to obtain medical care, especially for those who do not have health insurance. Also, medical bills paid by PIP do not have to be paid back to the client’s auto insurer if the client receives a financial recovery from the at-fault driver’s insurer.
On the other hand, people who have suffered serious injuries sometimes lose their case because a jury does not agree that the person has suffered a permanent injury. This most commonly arises with injuries to intervertebral discs. Spinal discs tend to degenerate over time and can be likened to brake pads that eventually wear out. Some people who have never suffered an accident or any trauma of significance have herniated or bulging discs. Because of this, the presence of a herniated or bulging disc identified on an MRI is not the same as an x-ray that shows a person suffered a broken bone in an accident.
Insurers hire doctors of their own choosing who routinely testify that herniated or bulging discs were not caused by an accident. Unfortunately, the car insurers do this in almost every disc injury case even if the injured person never previously suffered from neck or back pain in their entire life prior to the car accident.
The result can be very unfair. A jury may very well check the “no” box on the verdict form indicating a legitimately injured claimant suffered no permanent injury, which then results in a loss and subjects that person to a judgment for the insurer’s significant court costs.
If PIP is repealed, the “permanency” threshold will not apply, and jurors will simply award the amount of compensation to which a person is entitled, assuming the jury finds the other driver to be at fault for causing the accident.
For the time being, Florida’s PIP laws will remain in place as the House bill died during the legislative session as the Senate failed to vote on it before the session ended. Similar bills will certainly be proposed in the future. Continue reading