Author Archives: Fernando L. Roig, Esq.

Florida’s Third-Party Bad-Faith Laws are Costly to State’s Auto Insurance, Says IRC Study

More than $800 million in additional auto liability claim payments were made in 2013 as a result of Florida’s third party bad-faith lawsuit environment.

Those findings were revealed in a recent study—“Third-Party Bad-Faith in Florida’s Automobile Insurance System”—conducted by the Insurance Research Council (IRC). This translates to an average of $79 in additional claim costs for every insured vehicle in the state.

From 1995 through 2013, Florida experienced a striking increase in the frequency of bodily injury liability claims and a significant jump of 68 percent in average claim payments per insured vehicle, according to the report.

Compare that to other large no-fault states that do not authorize third-party bad-faith lawsuits against insurers, such as New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, where notable declines in liability claim frequency and much smaller increases or even declines in claim payments per insured vehicle were found.

A contributing factor in Florida’s growing problem with third-party bad-faith lawsuits is believed to be the “apparent failure of the no-fault system’s tort threshold to limit access to liability reimbursement under most auto insurance policies,” according to the study. Other no-fault states’ systems are designed to limit the number of liability claims that are filed for reimbursement for lost wages and medical costs.

In contrast, Florida’s tort threshold appears not to minimize liability claim frequency. In 2013, Florida’s bodily injury claim frequency rate was not only higher than most tort system states (states without no-fault coverage), but was higher than the U.S. frequency rate for liability claims.

“The virtually unrestricted ability to file a third-party bad-faith lawsuit against an insurance company poses a serious threat to Florida’s auto insurance system,” said Elizabeth A. Sprinkel, CPCU, senior vice president of the IRC. “The possibility of winning large bad-faith settlements and court judgments creates powerful incentives for potential claimants and their attorneys to file auto liability insurance claims that otherwise would not be filed.”

The IRC said that it will be doing more research related to the impact of Florida’s tort threshold and other important aspects of the no-fault system and will publish those findings later this year.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

Three Jacksonville Residents Charged with PIP fraud

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater recently announced that three Jacksonville residents have been arrested for personal injury protection fraud. The suspects—Yolanda Vargas, Christian Vargas, and Willdelyn Rodgriguez—have each been charged with one count of committing a staged motor vehicle accident and one count of insurance fraud.

A fourth suspect by the name of Felix Vargas, who has not yet been located, is alleged to have recruited the three individuals to participate in the fraud scheme. He is believed to be connected to a New York identity theft ring, as well as to an IRS scam in which he directed payment of others’ tax refunds to himself.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

Jacksonville Couple Sentenced in “Family & Friends” PIP Insurance Fraud Ring

A married couple convicted of staging car crashes with family members—as we first reported on our FL-PIP Guide on June 23—was recently sentenced for their involvement in an extensive insurance fraud ring in Duval County.

According to a news release issued by the State Attorney’s Office for the Fourth Judicial Circuit, Jose Alberto Velez, 30, received 74 months in prison for three counts of knowingly participating in an intentional motor vehicle crash and five counts of false insurance claims. His wife, April Rosita Wynn, 23, was sentenced to 48 months in prison for two counts of knowingly participating in an intentional motor vehicle crash and four counts of false insurance claims.

A 2012 investigation by the State Attorney’s Office (SAO) and the Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) found that Velez and Wynn, who are now married, had been recruiting family members and friends to participate in staged car crashes with them. They would then file Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims through designated rehabilitation clinics, which provided bogus treatment for the participants’ fictional injuries.

Over the past year-and-a-half, almost 100 individuals have been arrested for their involvement in this insurance fraud scheme. Many have already been sentenced, including one of the ringleaders, David Rodriguez Lopez. He received 15 years in prison on charges of schemes to defraud over $50,000, false insurance claims over $100,000, and knowingly participating in an intentional motor vehicle crash.

Other cases are currently pending.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

Eleventh Circuit Dismisses PIP Case Involving EMC and Massage Therapy

A class action suit filed by plaintiff Accumed Chiropractic against Progressive Select Insurance was dismissed on July 31, 2014 by Circuit Court Judge Antonio Arzola. Judge Arzola concluded that the action was inappropriate for class action treatment.

The suit was brought on behalf of plaintiff itself and two putative classes. The first class was to be anyone who was denied payment by Progressive under PIP or MedPay insurance coverage where Progressive’s denial was based on an assertion that an Emergency Medical Condition for the insured was not established.

The second class was to be defined as anyone whose PIP or MedPay claim was denied because the health care service was for massage therapy or acupuncture. Plaintiff sought both declaratory relief and damages for breach of contract.

Plaintiff stipulated at the hearing that it did not have standing to sue for MedPay benefits. As for the PIP claims, Judge Arzola found that the “necessary and individualized questions associated with the underlying PIP claims of the class will predominate in this Action.” As a matter of law, therefore, plaintiff’s case could not proceed as a class action, and the complaint was dismissed without prejudice.

The case is Accumed Chiropractic & Wellness Center, Inc. v. Progressive Select Insurance Company, Case No. 13-CA-029396 (Fla. 11th Cir. Ct., July 31, 2014). Click on the link to view the court order.

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Filed under Case Law

Court Grants Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss in Robbins v. Garrison P & C

On July 18, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed a case in which the plaintiff challenged reimbursement under the amended statute’s “emergency medical condition” (“EMC”) provision.

Glenaan Robbins sued her auto insurer, Garrison P&C Insurance Co., alleging that Garrison violated the 2013 provision of Florida’s PIP law that limits PIP benefits depending on a determination of whether or not the claimant suffered an emergency medical condition.

Robbins sustained injuries in an April 2013 car accident. She was treated for her injuries and alleged that ultimately “no determination was made that she did not have an emergency medical condition.” When Robbins submitted her claim to her insurer Garrison, Garrison limited her reimbursement to $2,500.

FL PIP law requires that an insurance company must reimburse its injured insured up to $10,000 if certain medical providers determine that the injured person had an emergency medical condition. Reimbursement is limited to $2,500 if a provider determines that the injured person did not have an emergency medical condition.

In this case, no determination was made either way that an emergency medical condition did or did not exist. Plaintiff Robbins argued that where there has been no such determination, insurance companies must reimburse medical expenses up to $10,000. In other words, unless a determination of no emergency medical condition is made, the plaintiff is entitled to the higher amount.

Reviewing the language of the statute and legislative intent, however, the court concluded that Robbins’ argument had no merit. Rather, where there has been no determination of an emergency medical condition made, PIP medical benefits are not to exceed $2,500. Thus, contrary to Robbins’ argument, the conclusion of the court was that unless there is a determination of an emergency condition, the reimbursement is limited to $2,500.

The court therefore held that Robbins had failed to allege a statutory claim and her case was dismissed.

The case is Glenaan Robbins v. Garrison Property & Casualty Insurance Co., Civil Action No. 13-81259-Civ-Scola (S.D. Fla. July 18, 2014). Click on the link to read the court ruling.

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Filed under Case Law, Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2012)

Vehicular Arson Cases Climbing Nationwide

The slow economy could be contributing to an increase in claims involving auto fires, according to an official with the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

“Common sense tells you that more desperate people will take more desperate measures to get themselves out of trouble,” said Coalition representative James Quiggle in a News 4 I-Team report.

Cracking the case on vehicular arson is difficult to prove in court, as Maryland officials are discovering. Of more than 2,000 suspected auto arsons in the state during 2013, fewer than 50 cases had sufficient evidence to turn the matter over to prosecutors.

Findings from a 2009 report of the U.S. Fire Administration’s (USFA’s) National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) reveal the following:

  • Approximately 10 percent of all vehicle fires are intentionally set.
  • Intentional vehicle fires are at their highest during the summer, with a July peak.
  • Matches are the leading heat source (20 percent) of intentionally set vehicle fires.
  • Vehicle seats (34 percent) and uncontained fuel (14 percent) represent the starting point of many intentionally set vehicle fires.

Arson generally has a low clearance rate, according to crime reports from the U.S. Department of Justice. Arson involving motor vehicles, which represent 20 percent of all arson cases, have a particularly low closure rate of approximately 7.4 percent nationwide.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics indicate that motor vehicle arson may not be a major concern in the state, with fewer than 300 cases of auto arson reported for 2012.

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008), Insurance Fraud

Woman Arrested for Forging Doctors’ Signatures to File $80,000 in Fraudulent Medical Insurance Claims

A Florida woman, who recently moved to Georgia with her family, had racked up more than $80,000 in false medical insurance claims when she was arrested last week.

According to a news release by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Tawania Weekley faces 80 different criminal counts after illegally filing claims for emergency room care, hospital stays, medical equipment, and multiple medical tests including MRIs, EKGs and x-rays that were never performed.

Weekley’s insurance carriers tipped off the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF).

A subsequent investigation uncovered a plan where Weekley doctored and created new medical claim forms with forged physicians’ signatures, and then submitted those documents for reimbursement under her accidental and cancer indemnity policies.

The DIF found that she filed a total of 20 claims under the accidental policy for herself and immediate family members, and one additional claim under the cancer policy for herself.

“Every fraudulent claim drives up the cost of insurance in Florida,” CFO Atwater said. “I’m grateful to our investigative team and partners for working tirelessly to protect the hard working and honest people of Florida from harmful acts of fraud.”

DIF investigators worked with the Grady County Sheriff’s Office in Cairo, Georgia, to make Weekley’s arrest. She remains in jail while awaiting extradition to Florida.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud