A few months ago in Florida, accident victims and their advocates were dealt a depressing blow when a group of businesspeople fighting the state’s new PIP laws lost in court. What kind of blow? Not only do those who suffer injuries in car crashes now have fewer options regarding where and how they get medical help, they’ll have less money to do so and be subject to strict rules about providing proof and acting within thenarrow time limits.
In order to understand the changes and why they’re bad for regular Floridians, first you have to know what PIP is, what it’s supposed to do, and what it actually does.
PIP Stands for Personal Injury Protection
Florida is one of only 12 states that require PIP insurance for drivers, and there are plenty of good reasons why the law isn’t more widespread. What is personal injury protection insurance? While it sounds like something that would be great for drivers (you won’t have to worry if you get hurt in an accident!), in reality the law is a sort of Band-Aid for states that have decided to make accidents “no-fault.” Basically, no-fault means what it sounds like – if you are in an accident with another driver, neither one of you will be held responsible for the crash, even if the blame clearly lies with one party.
The unfortunate side-effect of having a no-fault law is that when people are injured in a motor vehicle accident, they can’t expect to receive compensation from the other driver’s insurance unless they’re willing to take them to court. But because it can take months – or even longer – to go through the process of suing someone, that left victims footing the bill for their injuries or getting worse if they couldn’t afford treatment.
Florida’s PIP law, originally written in the ‘70s, requires motorists to purchases medical insurance as part of their car insurance plan. This allowed them to seek help immediately, but also led to all kinds of fraud. Lawmakers have been trying to fix the problem for decades, but instead of simply getting rid of PIP, they keep altering the law.
Over time, it’s evolved into something that’s less about making sure victims get the help they need and more about protecting insurance companies.
Latest PIP Rules Hurt Everyone Except Insurers
The most recent changes to PIP were supposed to go into effect in January of 2013, but a group of businesspeople filed a lawsuit to prevent them from becoming law. Unfortunately, they lost their suit this past October, and we’ve had to live with the repercussions ever since. Just a few of the changes that hurt regular Floridians include:
Less money for your injuries – Under the old rules everyone had up to $10,000 for medical problems, but now that’s limited to only the most serious injuries; most people will only be allowed up to $2,500.
Fewer options for care – Hurt your back or neck in an accident and want to see a massage therapist? Hope you’re willing to pay out of your own pocket, because PIP no longer covers those services or those of acupuncturists.
Less time, but more requirements – If you don’t seek medical help within 14 days of your accident but later notice a problem, the insurance company doesn’t have to pay anything. However, you can’t file an injury claim until you’ve gotten a statement from a doctor “proving” you need help.
The only good news from all of this is that the judgment against the acupuncturists and massage therapists practically begs an accident victim to file a similar lawsuit, because the court verdict seemed to imply that they would be on better legal grounds to fight the law. But until some enterprising lawyer finds a client willing to make this argument, injury victims are going to have to rely on compensation from injury lawsuits more than ever.
About the Author: Jeffrey Braxton is a trial lawyer in Fort Lauderdale who has devoted his 15-year career to the practice of personal injury law. As lead trial attorney for The Injury Law Firm of South Florida, Jeff has litigated thousands of cases and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, an exclusive group of attorneys who have resolved cases in excess of one million dollars.
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