Over the years there have been many attempts to fix, sunset or even repeal Florida’s no-fault system.
The result has consistently been the same: Florida remains the most fraud-prone state in the nation with motorists paying some of the highest insurance premiums around. This year, legislators are at it again with companion bills in the House and Senate to repeal PIP (personal injury protection).
Ailing Florida insurance industry
While well intended, there is a concern is that they won’t go far enough to fix what is ailing the insurance industry in Florida. After all, we are a state where runaway jury verdicts on questionable injury claims have become common place. Residents are barraged with trial lawyer billboards boasting of large verdicts.
Adjusters are routinely threatened with bad faith for simply doing their job of investigating claims. From Jacksonville to Miami, and Pensacola to Key West, accident victims are being diagnosed with “disk” injuries that in most other states will be nothing more than soft tissue damage or aggravation of a pre-existing condition.
In looking at this year’s proposed legislation, Florida HB 1063, and corresponding SB 1766, seek to eliminate the mandatory $10,000 in PIP coverage currently required of motorists. Beginning in 2018, motorists would no longer be required to carry PIP, but would be required to get at least $25,000 in liability coverage for bodily injury or death, and $50,000 for bodily injury or death of two or more people. Currently, Florida does not require motorists to carry bodily injury coverage.
According to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, new legislation with the elimination of PIP and the replacement of mandatory BI (bodily injury) coverage would save motorists approximately $81 dollars per vehicle.
Recommendations for legislators
To truly make this new legislation work for the benefit of consumers, legislators should consider the following:
- The elimination of PIP creates its own new set of challenges. While it is one less coverage that will be prone to fraud, the shenanigans that we see today will simply be pushed to BI and UM (uninsured motorist) line coverages, so any savings will be dubious at best.
- If the legislature ultimately decides to retain PIP, then we need to strictly enforce tort threshold language and require judges, not jurors, to determine if a claimant has met the threshold. The result, as we see in other states where this is the case, is a vast reduction of frivolous soft tissue cases clogging our courts.
- We need to modify the negligence law so that parties more than 50 percent at fault for a loss are barred from recovering damages from a third party. Currently, under Florida’s pure comparative negligence doctrine, a person who is 99 percent at fault is still allowed to sue for damages.
- No pay, no play. Florida needs to bar uninsured motorists from recovery of non-economic damages, a solution effectively implemented in a number of states.
- Cap attorney fees.
- Cap tort damages for “pain and suffering.” Include a “loser pays” provision that applies to not only the plaintiff but their counsel.
- Allow “bad faith” only in the rare situations in which an insurer truly does not honor their fiduciary duties. Enact penalties for trial lawyers who engage in so called bad faith “set ups.”
- Allow a reasonable amount of time to investigate suspicious claims.
- Give law enforcement the teeth necessary to pursue fraudsters while holding insurers harmless during their investigations.
- Enact caps associated with Medicare and/or workers’ compensation, on treatment for soft tissue injuries, which comprise the vast majority of cases clogging our courts.
While the proposed legislation is well intended, it is unclear if there will be a quantifiable benefit to Floridians. Two things that we do know: staged accidents will continue at an alarming rate and, if prior legislation to fix auto insurance in the Sunshine State is any indication, premiums will not decrease.
Additional steps needed
This is precisely why there are additional steps that the legislature should take to ensure a truly meaningful bill that will benefit consumers. By understanding the greater problem, legislators can give teeth to whatever bill they ultimately pass. Even if PIP stays the law of the land, the suggestions laid out here will provide a benefit to Florida residents.
Christopher Tidball (Chris.Tidball@mitchell.com) is a claims consultant, speaker and the author of multiple claims improvement books including Re-Adjusted: 20 Essential Rules to Take Your Organization from Ordinary to Extraordinary and Blocking & Tackling: The Playbook for the Winning Claims Organization and the recently released thriller, Swoop & Squat. To learn more, visit www.christidball.com. Views expressed are the author's own.