JUDGE BLOCKS PART OF PIP LAW
By DAVID ROYSE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
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THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 20, 2013.....A Tallahassee circuit court judge has, at least temporarily, blocked part of a law passed last year that sought to reduce fraud in the personal injury protection auto insurance system with a scathing critique of the no-fault law, saying it doesn't give people access to the courts when they're wronged.
Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis noted that no-fault law is a trade-off of access to a court remedy for wrongs for "a reasonable alternative" to a right to sue that speeds up payments for injury claims and lost wages, and some immunity from being held liable for others' losses. But in the 40 years that Florida has used no-fault insurance, which Lewis likened to a "socialist" scheme depriving individuals of their rights, new restrictions have come into play that have forced reviews of whether they go over the line in denying people access to legal remedies to injuries.
In the case of the new restrictions on claims under the PIP law, Lewis said it appears they might. In light of the new law's restrictions on the ability to be covered for certain treatments and other limits, the question arises, "is the no-fault law still a good deal?" Lewis wrote. "Is it still a reasonable alternative to the rights guaranteed to citizens under ... the Florida State Constitution.?
"The answer to those questions is probably, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder, and reasonable people may disagree. From my perspective, however, the revisions to the law make it no longer the 'reasonable alternative'" earlier courts had okayed," Lewis wrote in a short order granting a temporary injunction.
Lewis prohibited the enforcement of only those sections of the law requiring a finding of emergency medical condition as a prerequisite for full payment of PIP benefits, or the sections that bar payment of benefits provided by chiropractors, massage therapists and acupuncturists, who had challenged the new law. The PIP law, passed last year in HB 119, limited covered medical care to $2,500, instead of the usual $10,000, if the injured claimant can't show an emergency medical condition.
The Legislature created the no-fault car insurance system in 1971, a move, Lewis wrote, that not only took away people's right to sue, but relieved "the wrongdoer of responsibility for his conduct, and granting him immunity from civil liability." He called the system an example of an "experiment with socialism and the trend away from those libertarian principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility."
Backers of the new law had said for years that the PIP system was rife with fraud, with fly-by-night providers billing for un-needed, or phantom "medical care." Gov. Rick Scott had made passage of limits on the insurance claims a major part of his agenda last year.
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