In 2013, changes to Florida’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) law were supposed to help prevent insurance fraud, but instead those changes have ended up hurting accident victims. The current Florida PIP law lets insurance companies charge higher rates while providing consumers with fewer benefits. A study published in September and conducted by Illinois-based Pinnacle Actuarial Resources for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation concludes that more than fifteen million Florida motorists will save an average of $81 per vehicle if the state abandons its increasingly-troubled no-fault PIP auto insurance system.

Florida’s drivers pay the fourth-highest auto insurance rates in the nation, and that $81 in savings would total about $1 billion a year if Florida’s lawmakers eliminate the decades-old PIP system. Earlier this year, Representative Bill Hager of Delray Beach and Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg introduced legislation that would end PIP by 2019. Those proposals did not get far, but the Pinnacle study is providing new fuel for the debate. Florida law currently compels motorists to include $10,000 of medical coverage in their automobile insurance, no matter how much health insurance they carry through employer plans, private plans, or Medicare.

The Florida Legislature established the PIP system in 1972. The no-fault plan replaced the tort reparations system as a way to compensate injury victims after traffic crashes regardless of fault. The idea behind no-fault auto insurance is a trade-off, ensuring payment of medical, disability, and death benefits in return for a limitation on the right to sue for non-economic pain and suffering damages. However, since the inception of the PIP system in Florida, fraud and steadily rising premiums have been relentless.

WHAT WILL FLORIDA DRIVERS SAVE IF PIP IS ABOLISHED?

Under the current PIP system, drivers who never make a claim or get in a crash are victimized by persistent rate increases. Since January 2015, for example, Allstate has raised PIP premiums up to forty percent despite reforms that were supposed to save families money. In Palm Beach County, the net annual savings from dropping PIP would be about $67 per driver or about 4.5 percent of the overall car insurance bill, according to the Pinnacle report.

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Without PIP in Florida, the average car insurance bill would drop to about $1,433 from $1,500. Premiums in Martin County would remain essentially unchanged, but drivers in St. Lucie County would save about $62 a year, drivers in Broward would save about $130 a year, drivers in Miami-Dade would save about $272 or 16.2 percent of their auto insurance costs, according to the Pinnacle report.

WHAT CHANGES WERE MADE TO THE PIP LAWS IN 2013?

One of the legal changes that took effect in 2013 is that anyone injured in a Florida traffic collision now has only fourteen days to obtain initial medical treatment. Previously, there was no time limit, but today, if you are injured in a crash in south Florida, and if you do not seek medical attention within fourteen days of the collision, the insurance company will compensate nothing.

After an accident, adrenaline charges through the body, and it can mask the sensation of pain, or you may feel mild pain and try to ignore it. Don’t. That “mild” pain could quickly become severe. Some injuries that are not immediately apparent later become serious medical conditions. If you’re involved in a vehicle collision in south Florida, it’s imperative to obtain medical attention immediately even if you don’t “feel” like you’re injured. You face Florida’s 14-day limit, and if you’ve been seriously hurt, you need to put an experienced West Palm Beach personal injury attorney on the case at once, before evidence deteriorates and memories fade.

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The 2013 PIP law was also adopted to motivate insurance companies to lower their PIP rates in Florida by at least 25 percent by 2014, but insurance companies can apply to the state to be exempted from that provision, and most insurance companies have done that. The upshot has been huge profits for insurance companies while benefits to insurance customers are being substantially reduced.

Also under the 2013 changes to the PIP law, although Florida drivers are required to pay for $10,000 in PIP insurance, drivers are limited to $2,500 of the $10,000 unless they have sustained what the law calls an “emergency medical condition” (EMC). The EMC must be diagnosed by a licensed physician (an M.D. or D.O.), a dentist, a physician assistant, or an advanced nurse practitioner.

HOW DOES FLORIDA LAW DEFINE AN EMERGENCY MEDICAL CONDITION?

The law does not define the term “emergency medical condition,” but other Florida laws define an EMC as symptoms of severity such that the lack of immediate medical treatment could have or will reasonably be expected to result in severe and potentially permanent dysfunction. Only those victims diagnosed with an EMC qualify for the full $10,000; victims injured less seriously receive only up to $2,500. Additionally, Florida acupuncturists and massage therapists and may no longer treat patients under PIP as a result of the changes approved in 2013.

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If you are injured by negligence in a south Florida vehicle accident, and if you receive a notification from the insurance company informing you that your PIP benefits are exhausted, what is “exhausted” may only be the $2,500 and not the full $10,000. Find out. If an insurance company in south Florida is limiting your benefits to $2,500, contact an experienced West Palm Beach personal injury attorney for advice and help.

If you are injured in a vehicle crash – in Florida or anywhere else – don’t sign any insurance documents or admit to any fault before consulting an experienced personal injury lawyer. Take photographs of the accident scene and photographs of your visible injuries. Obtain complete contact and insurance information from the other driver or drivers and contact information from any eyewitnesses. Call the police and make certain that you arrange to obtain a copy of the accident report. Seek medical attention immediately.

Who opposes the abolition of Florida’s PIP auto insurance system? The Florida Hospital Association contends that PIP is needed so that all Florida drivers have at least some minimal medical coverage. The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida represents auto insurance giants including Allstate, Progressive and State Farm. Its president, Michael Carlson told the Palm Beach Post that the group, “welcomes the release of the Pinnacle study, and we are carefully reviewing its data and conclusions.” Efforts to abolish PIP failed in 2016, but the Pinnacle report will likely motivate another effort by some Florida lawmakers to abolish PIP in Florida in 2017.