If you’ve been a driver in Florida for a number of years, it might be hard to imagine, but the state’s no-fault auto insurance system could be about to change or even come to an end. When the Florida Legislature meets in March in Tallahassee, legislation will be proposed that would eliminate personal injury protection coverage and require all drivers in Florida to carry bodily injury liability insurance.

Passage of that legislation isn’t at all certain yet, however. Senator Anitere Flores, who chairs the
Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, said that before her committee votes to eliminate the state’s no-fault auto insurance system, she wants to investigate other ways to bring down automobile insurance rates. Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system has been in place for almost four decades.

The personal +injury protection reforms passed by Florida lawmakers in 2012 – and supported by Florida Governor Rick Scott and by the state’s Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Atwater – have not resulted in the lower rates that were expected. “We were promised a certain percentage of savings, and that didn’t happen,” Senator Flores, a Miami Republican, said regarding the 2012 reforms.

HOW DID THE 2012 REFORMS AFFECT AUTO INSURANCE RATES?

From 2012 through 2014 – the first two years after the reforms went into effect – personal injury protection rates with Florida’s top 25 auto insurers dropped an average of 14.4 percent. However, those rates have increased by more than 25 percent since 2015, according to figures released by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, and all liability coverage has increased by more than 23 percent over the last two years.

Sandra Starnes, who is the director of property and casualty product review for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, told the Orlando Sentinel, “Unfortunately, since January 1, 2015, we’ve seen increasing trends across all coverages, including PIP.” What’s behind these rate increases? Starnes said the rising rates are triggered by the increasing costs of medical care and vehicle repairs, by more people driving more miles, and by an increase in the distractions that Florida drivers must deal with on the state’s streets and highways.

Flores’ committee will consider a measure – Senate Bill 156 – introduced by Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg to eliminate no-fault insurance and replace it with bodily injury liability coverage. Representative Bill Hager of Delray Beach has introduced the same legislation in the Florida House of Representatives as House Bill 461. The 2017 Florida legislative session opens on March 7th.

WHAT DOES THE CURRENT AUTO INSURANCE SYSTEM REQUIRE?

Comparable proposals have failed to make it through the last several legislative sessions. Under the current system, drivers are required to have personal injury coverage that includes $10,000 in medical benefits – an amount set in 1979, 38 years ago. Dale Swope, speaking for the Florida Justice Association, explained to the Sentinel that benefits have not kept up with four decades’ worth of inflation. Many considered the reforms approved in 2012 as a final effort to save the no-fault system after rates skyrocketed due to an increase in fraudulent auto insurance claims.

The reforms also required anyone involved in a traffic collision to seek medical treatment within fourteen days, allowed up to $10,000 for emergency medical conditions, and placed a $2,500 cap on benefits for non-emergency conditions. Abolishing the no-fault system, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, would send more cases to the civil courts as more accident injury victims would be filing injury lawsuits and seeking damages from at-fault drivers.

Not everyone in Florida, however, is on the bandwagon for eliminating the no-fault system. Jeff Scott, for example, is the general counsel of the Florida Medical Association. He says the 2012 reforms have not been a complete failure. Fraudulent claims are down since 2012, and emergency room physicians are now paid automatically when they treat automobile accident victims. Attorney Scott also wants legislators to wait on any action regarding no-fault insurance until the future of the Affordable Care Act is determined.

“President Trump and Congress have made it clear they intend to dismantle the ACA, but they haven’t made it clear as to what they intend to replace it with,” Scott told the Sentinel. And
Michael Carlson, who is the president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, warns that a repeal of the no-fault system could mean higher auto insurance rates for all Florida drivers. “We do believe that any consideration of the repeal of the ‘no-fault’ law … will have a price effect on Floridians,” said Carlson. The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida represents the Allstate, Progressive, and State Farm insurance companies.

Anyone injured in a traffic accident in South Florida should obtain sound legal advice regarding his or her personal circumstances by speaking with an experienced West Palm Beach personal injury attorney. For now, Florida motorists are required by law to have both “PDL” and “PIP” coverage. Drivers must have at least $10,000 in property damage liability (PDL) insurance, and they additionally must carry at least $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. However, most other states require drivers to carry bodily injury liability (BIL) insurance to compensate others for injuries if an accident occurs.

HOW HAS PIP INSURANCE WORKED?

Florida established the PIP system in 1972. PIP insurance protects a policyholder who becomes a traffic accident victim without regard to which driver was liable for the collision. Subsequent to an accident with injuries, policyholders must use the PIP coverage for the first $10,000 in medical costs and lost income. PIP does not protect a policyholder against a lawsuit filed by someone who has been permanently disabled in a crash, and it does not pay for non-economic damages like pain and emotional suffering.

Each driver in a Florida traffic accident has medical treatment and other costs automatically paid by his or her own PIP policy, no matter which driver was at fault. Traffic accident injury victims in Florida may file a personal injury claim outside of the state’s no-fault system – and against the at-fault driver – only if the injuries are deemed permanent, if considerable or permanent disfigurement or scarring occurs, or if the collision caused a permanent loss of an important bodily function.

Although an accident victim usually cannot file a lawsuit over a traffic collision in Florida unless the claim qualifies as a “serious injury,” a West Palm Beach motor vehicle accident lawyer can tell you if your claim qualifies and can also provide the legal advice and guidance you’ll need. The Florida statute of limitations for personal injury and property damage claims arising from traffic collisions is four years in most cases, but don’t wait four years to speak about your case with one of our motor vehicle accident attorneys.