Some motorists in Florida may not be aware of changes to the state’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance laws that took effect in 2013 and may impact their ability to recover injury compensation after an accident. The changes to the law were designed to help deter insurance fraud but have instead ended up hurting accident victims. In fact, the PIP law now allows insurance companies to demand higher rates while offering fewer benefits to motorists. The state of Florida compels drivers to purchase at least $10,000 in PIP insurance coverage. Theoretically, Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system lets injured drivers receive medical compensation even if the injury happens in an accident that is the driver’s own fault.

In 1972, Florida’s no-fault auto insurance plan was offered to the state as a practical way to reimburse injury victims quickly after traffic collisions without regard to fault. The legal requirement to carry PIP insurance is supposed to insure that every driver in the state has at least some minimal kind of auto insurance coverage. Eleven other states also have a no-fault automobile insurance system. One of the modifications to the Florida PIP law in 2013 is that anyone injured in a traffic crash in our state now has only 14 days after an accident to obtain a medical examination if the victim expects to receive reimbursement through PIP. Prior to 2013, there was no legal time limit. Now, if you are injured in a Florida traffic crash and you are not seen by a healthcare provider within 14 days, you will not qualify for PIP compensation. Your initial medical treatment must happen in the first 14 days after the injury.

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REDUCED INSURANCE COVERAGE

A second change to the law in 2013 means that some Florida policyholders injured in traffic accidents will be eligible for only $2,500 in coverage – rather than the $10,000 of coverage they’ve actually paid for. Unless your injury is what the law calls an “Emergency Medical Condition” (EMC), you could be limited to $2,500 of PIP coverage. The statute does not specifically require a diagnosis of the EMC within 14 days, but it does require diagnosis by a licensed physician (a medical doctor or osteopath), a physician assistant, a dentist, or an advanced nurse practitioner. As of 2013, PIP will no longer pay for diagnosis or for treatment by an acupuncturist or by a massage therapist. Generally, Florida courts presume that an emergency medical condition is a condition sufficiently severe that a lack of immediate medical care could lead to – or reasonably could be expected to lead to – severe and/or permanent physical dysfunction or disability. Only PIP policyholders with a diagnosed EMC qualify now for the full $10,000 of PIP coverage. Less-seriously injured victims will receive no more than $2,500 of reimbursement.

It’s actually quite common to experience no pain at all after an accident – the swelling and bruises often only become apparent a few hours later. When an accident occurs, adrenaline courses through your system, and it can mask immediate pain. In other cases, you might experience aching or soreness after an accident and just hope it fades away. The problem is that a minor pain could develop into a serious medical condition, and that might take more than 14 days.

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YOU MUST SEEK MEDICAL TREATMENT

That’s why, if you’re in even a minor Florida traffic collision, you must seek medical treatment immediately – whether or not you “feel like” you’re injured. When you consider the 14-day rule, seeking immediate treatment is the only wise option. The severe pain associated with soft tissue injuries, for example, may only emerge weeks after the accident and injury occurred. Whiplash, which may not be apparent until days or weeks after an accident, can be a debilitating condition because it severely restricts movement and mobility in the head and neck region, and it also generates pain radiating into the back, shoulders, and arms.

For a multitude of reasons, avoiding medical attention after an accident is never smart. Being afraid of high medical expenses, for example, is a reason to seek treatment – not to avoid it – because that treatment could cost you much more in the future. If you’re anxious about missing work, you’ll miss much more if your condition later becomes serious. After a traffic collision, seek medical attention at once. If you get a “clean bill of health” you’ll also get peace of mind. And if you’ve suffered an injury, discuss your legal rights and options as quickly as possible with a good personal injury attorney. In south Florida, contact an experienced West Palm Beach personal injury lawyer.

Florida’s 14-day rule has helped automobile insurance companies make even more profits by letting them legally wiggle out of their ostensible responsibility to compensate policyholders who are injury victims. Yet according to the Palm Beach Post, drivers in Florida now pay the nation’s fourth highest auto insurance rates. Some auto insurance companies have never even bothered to inform their customers about the changes to the law. Florida personal injury attorneys meet a large number of auto accident victims, and many are entirely uninformed about the 2013 changes to the PIP law and the impact of those changes on their PIP coverage.

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CHANGES MAY BE COMING

One piece of legislation that Florida lawmakers will consider in 2016 would bring an end to the state’s no-fault insurance system in just three years. The proposal, SB 1112, has been introduced by State Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, who tells the Palm Beach Post that “no amount of tweaking … will fix PIP.” Brandes suggests simply eliminating the legal requirement for Personal Injury Protection insurance. Previous efforts to end PIP in Florida fell short when insurance companies and hospital corporations lobbied vigorously to keep the PIP system in place.

Nevertheless, Brandes isn’t alone in believing that the system should be retired. In October 2015, Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty suggested, “Let’s just repeal PIP and do nothing.” The 2013 modifications to Florida’s PIP law have failed to bring the results that were expected. Insurance rates haven’t dropped; neither has insurance fraud. State investigators made a number of arrests in south Florida PIP insurance scams in 2015. Still, the Florida Hospital Association immediately announced its opposition to SB 1112.

The state of Colorado adopted a no-fault auto insurance system in 1974, only two years after Florida, but the PIP law was allowed to expire in Colorado back in 2003 when Governor Bill Owens told the state’s lawmakers that he would not sign an extension of the PIP law unless it substantially reduced costs to motorists. Since PIP ended in Colorado, that state’s drivers have saved 35 percent on their total automobile insurance costs, according to the Palm Beach Post.

ALL HOPE MAY NOT BE LOST

Florida’s 14-day rule creates a severely truncated time-frame for injury victims to obtain medical attention. Those who wait will not receive reimbursement for any medical expenses through PIP. Still, all hope may not be lost. If you learn after 14 days that your injury will require treatment and reimbursement, you may have options even if your insurance company rejects your injury claim. An experienced Florida personal injury attorney may sometimes persuade an insurance company to reconsider – especially if your injury is severe or disabling and you can prove it.

If no reconsideration is offered, discuss your rights and options – including the possibility of filing a personal injury lawsuit – with your Florida personal injury lawyer. Most personal injury attorneys will not charge you for an initial consultation, and if you have a personal injury claim that you can prove, you’ll pay no legal fees until and unless your claim prevails. If you’re injured in a Florida traffic accident, speak at once to a personal injury lawyer, and in south Florida, consult with an experienced West Palm Beach personal injury attorney. You have nothing to lose, and you may be awarded compensation for all of your injury-related medical expenses and all of your related expenditures and losses, including your lost income or lost earning capacity.

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IF YOU ARE INJURED

In this state and every other state, if you’ve been hurt in a traffic crash, do not admit fault or sign any insurance papers prior to consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney. Get medical treatment at once. If you can, take photographs – or have someone take them – of your visible injuries, the accident scene, and the damage to the vehicles. In some personal injury cases, photos taken immediately after a crash can make all the difference.

Get the other driver’s full contact and insurance information, and – if you can – get the names and contact info of any eyewitnesses you can find. Notify the local police and make sure that you’ll receive a copy of their accident report. Keep and copy every piece of legal, medical, and insurance paperwork related to the accident. As soon as you’ve had medical attention, let a good personal injury attorney assess your case and offer you the precise legal advice you’ll require. Your health and your future are important priorities, so if you’ve been hurt by a negligent driver in a Florida traffic collision, arrange without delay to speak about your case with a good personal injury lawyer.