Florida Senate Considering Ending No-Fault Insurance Law
A new proposal in the Florida Senate could do away with the State’s longstanding no-fault insurance laws. This month, the Florida Senate approved a bill (SB 54) that would eliminate the no-fault laws in the State. If passed, this law would eliminate the legal requirement in Florida that motorists carry personal-injury protections, and instead mandate that the hold sufficient bodily injury coverage. The general description of the bill reads as follows:
Repealing provisions which comprise the Florida Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law; revising the motor vehicle insurance coverages that an applicant must show to register certain vehicles with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles; revising financial responsibility requirements for owners or lessees of for-hire passenger transportation vehicles; providing an exception to the circumstances under which a person who is damaged may bring a civil action against an insurer; revising coverages subject to premium discounts for specified motor vehicle equipment; specifying persons whom medical payments coverage must protect, etc.
Florida No Fault Law
Over the last decade, Florida lawmakers have repeatedly debated moving away from the no-fault system. In Florida, the no-fault system currently requires drivers to carry $10,000 in personal injury protection coverage. This coverage helps to cover their own medical bills. Throughout the years, many arguments have been made against this system. Some lawmakers argue that the system leads to fraud, while others argue it does not do enough to protect drivers.
If passed, the law would require Florida drivers to carry bodily injury coverage – which many Florida drivers already carry. As opposed to PIP coverage, bodily injury cover pays for injuries or deaths caused to other people in accidents. Under SB 54, Florida drivers would be required by law to carry a minimum of $25,000 in bodily injury coverage for the injury or death of one person, with an aggregate limit of $50,000 for all people involved in an accident. However, the proposal would account for means testing in this requirement. For example, low income motorists (defined as making 200% less that the Federal Poverty Level ) would have a lower minimum insurance requirement of $15,000 per single person and $30,000 in the aggregate. The same would be true for students. Opponents to this exception point out that the law does not require proof of indigence, and essentially would require an “honor system” to enforce the lower limits.
The proposed change in the Florida No-Fault Law has also piqued the interest of insurers – who are lobbying for changes to how “bad faith” lawsuits are handled in Florida. In general, an insurer has a duty to operate honestly and fairly with their insured. When they fail to do so, they are often punished with significant “bad faith” lawsuits and judgments. The leading Florida Bad Faith Insurance case is Boston Old Colony Insurance Co. v. Gutierrez, 386 So.2d 783, 785 (Fla. 1980). In Boston Old Colony, the Florida Supreme Court held that an insurer is obligated to:
- “advise the insured of settlement opportunities”;
- “advise as to the probable outcome of the litigation”;
- “warn of the possibility of an excess judgment”;
- “advise the insured of any steps he might take to avoid same”;
- “investigate the facts”;
- “give fair consideration to a settlement offer that is not unreasonable under the facts”; and
- “settle, if possible, where a reasonably prudent person, faced with the prospect of paying the total recovery, would do so
In general, these requirements place far more responsibility on a Florida insurer than in many other States in the US. Bad faith lawsuits can be extremely costly to insurers, so insurance companies and their allies are pushing extremely hard to include changes in SB 54.
The bill is also drawing significant attention from emergency room physicians. For example, The Florida College of Emergency Physicians has said that the switch would place additional stress on the healthcare system – citing statistics that even under the existing no-fault system, 25% of medical bills still go unpaid. They point to the fact that, while the law provides for an option to buy med-pay coverage for yourself, it stops short of mandating it.
Florida Justice Association President Eric Romano took issue with setting a separate standard for students and low-income Floridians, saying “it basically would create two separate classes of drivers. First class would be students and those in low income households. The second would be everyone else. The idea here being that the first class of drivers could purchase insurance coverage at lower limits presumably at a lower cost,” he said. “But the concerns we have are that the amendment does not require the insured customer to provide any proof that they meet those qualifications.
The next stop for SB 54 is the Senate Rules Committee – before finally ending up on the chamber floor for a final vote. Our Florida Personal Injury Lawyers will be watching closely and will continue to update you on any developments.
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