Florida Judge Lifts Stay of PIP Injunction

A Florida judge has lifted an automatic stay of a temporary injunction of certain provisions within a landmark auto insurance reform bill adopted last year.

State Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis in Leon County has ruled to lift a stay of the injunction, which went into effect when Florida officials, including Gov. Rick Scott and Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, filed an appeal to stop the injunction.

A group of acupuncturists, massage therapists, and chiropractors filed for the injunction. Lewis ruled in March that certain aspects of Florida’s new personal injury protection (PIP) reform violated the Florida Constitution. His ruling allows acupuncturists and massage therapists to receive personal injury protection (PIP) benefits and it eliminates the requirement that a person have an “emergency medical condition” as a prerequisite to receiving full PIP benefits.

The group filed to vacate the stay—a request that was granted by Lewis, who says he did so not to prevent potential harm to the acupuncturists, massage therapist and chiropractors, but because it is the “constitutional right of citizens to seek redress in courts if they are wrongly injured,” and he sought to “prevent the potential harm to citizens injured in automobile accidents.”  

On April 19 the Solicitor General's Office filed an appeal on behalf of the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation in the District Court of Appeal.

However, in the meantime the insurance industry is trying to grasp what this latest twist means for them. It is not known whether another appeal would result in another stay of the injunction.

Donovan Brown, state government relations counsel for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America say the industry is disappointed in the ruling, which “once again gives way to the fraud and abuse that plagued the PIP system prior to reform.”

“This ruling treats Florida consumers as ‘PIP-squeaks,’” he adds. “Consumers deserve the full benefit of the reform.”

HB 119, signed by Gov. Rick Scott in law last May was celebrated by the insurance industry. The legislation aimed to mend the state’s broken no-fault, PIP system, which has been plagued by abuse and fraud. Of the law’s many provisions is a ban of PIP benefits for acupuncturists and massage facilities, and a requirement that claimants seek treatment within 14 days of an accident from a hospital or physician.

The group of acupuncturists, massage therapists and chiropractors failed to convince a state district court judge on the same merits. In January Judge Richard Lazzara, in the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Florida, denied the group an injunction.

In the meantime, legislation is floating to repeal the PIP, no-fault auto system in the Sunshine State. SB 1888 (formerly known as 7152) was sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee but it has yet to appear on the agenda.

Brown says the industry would be open to getting rid of the current system but certain criteria would need to be in place before the industry supported such a measure: no mandatory medical pay; no artificial price controls; lower preliminary bodily injury levels; and lawmakers must contemplate bad-faith reform to address abusive litigation tactics.

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