jump to home menu jump to vertical menu jump to content jump to footer
New Auto Insurance Laws make Consumers Jump

1/14/2013
By: Daniel Vasquez
Sun Sentinel

When you get behind the wheel again consider this: the minute you're involved in a collision the clock is ticking. Florida has a new set of stringent personal injury protection laws, which offer less time to make auto insurance claims and make it harder to get full medical benefit pay-outs.

Among them: You have 14 days have to seek medical treatment following a car accident.

As of Jan. 1, drivers involved in injury-inducing crashes must jump through a few extra hoops if they hope to take full advantage of their PIP insurance policy. Initial treatments must be provided in a hospital or licensed clinic or by a select group of professionals, including medical doctor, dentist, chiropractor and paramedic. There also are two benefit thresholds: To qualify for $10,000, your injuries must be diagnosed as an emergency medical condition; For non-emergency treatment, the maximum benefit is $2,500.

Proponents hope these new laws will keep premiums down by curbing fraudulent claims, especially those which seek maximum insurance payoffs for non-emergency services. The other side says the need to fight fraud is just an excuse to limit consumer rights and options.

The bottom-line is "the Legislature took away a consumer's right to benefits they paid for," said Craig Goldenfarb, who runs a personal injury law firm in West Palm Beach. "You paid for that coverage, and now if you don't get treatment in time your benefits could be reduced to zero. Zippo," said Goldenfarb.

He was referring to one of the key changes to Florida PIP law, the requirement that a claim be filed within 14 days for reimbursement. Before that, you had no real limit.

Goldenfarb also took issue with the fact that massage therapy and acupuncture visits are no longer covered by PIP.

Robin Smith Westcott, Florida's Insurance Consumer Advocate, counters that the new laws are more in line with proper public policy, specifically that Florida PIP is intended to provide emergency medical treatment for those who need it, or at least $10,000 worth.

Westcott's office released a report in December that revealed the average PIP insurance claim is $12,900, including about $4,400 in acupuncture, $3,700 for massage therapy, $3,200 to chiropractors and $1,600 for emergency room costs.

"Yes, massages and cold packs make you feel better," Westcott said, "but if you ask Floridians whether they want to pay double their premiums to pay for that, most will say they do not."

Westcott said it is not unusual for a South Floridian's premium to jump by 50 percent or more because in recent years insurance losses have gone up while accident claims have gone down.

That means, she said, a family in Hialeah with teen-aged drivers would have paid about $500 for a $10,000 policy just four years ago and now pays closer to $3,800 per year.

"Legitimate claims need to be paid by insurance companies," Westcott said. "These laws do not shield anyone from paying good claims. This was about good public policy."

dvasquez@tribune.com, 954-356-4219 or 561-243-6686.