Category Archives: Case Law

Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Granted with Prejudice in PIP Benefits Case Involving Challenge to “Emergency Medical Condition” (EMC) Provision

In a second ruling within one week involving Florida’s amended PIP law, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed a case challenging reimbursement under the amended statute’s “emergency medical condition” or “EMC” provision. See our earlier post titled Court Grants Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss in Robbins v. Garrison P & C.

Sendy Enivert sued her auto insurance company, Progressive Select, alleging breach of contract for failing to pay her PIP benefits to a limit of $10,000. Enivert’s claim involved the newly added provision to Florida’s PIP law which limits PIP benefits depending on whether a claimant has suffered an emergency medical condition.

Plaintiff Enivert interpreted this language to mean that an insured is limited to $2,500 only if a medical provider determines that there is no emergency medical condition. She argued that because, in her case, no medical provider ever made such a determination, she was entitled to the full $10,000. In other words, because no medical provider determined that she did not have an emergency medical condition, she was entitled to full benefits.

Defendant Progressive read the statute to mean the opposite, i.e., that a medical provider must affirmatively determine that an emergency medical condition does exist in order for the insured to be eligible for reimbursement of the full amount.

The court agreed with Progressive, concluding that the PIP statute clearly indicates that a determination that a claimant has suffered an emergency medical condition is required in order to receive benefits in excess of the $2,500 limit. Since a medical provider did not determine that Enivert had an emergency medical condition, she was not entitled to the full $10,000 in benefits.

The court also looked to the legislative intent behind the PIP statute. It concluded that the clear legislative intent was to decrease PIP fraud by placing more stringent requirements in order to receive the maximum amount of benefits.

Based on the above, the court granted Progressive’s motion to dismiss Enivert’s case.

The case is Sendy Enivert v. Progressive Select Insurance Co., Civil Action No. 14-CV-80279-Ryskamp/Hopkins (S.D. Fla. July 23, 2014). Click on the link to read the court ruling.

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

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)

State Farm Granted Summary Judgment in Lake Worth Chiropractic PIP Benefits Case

On July 14, 2014, the 15th Judicial Circuit for Palm Beach County affirmed a lower court decision granting summary judgment to State Farm in a claim for PIP benefits brought by Lake Worth Emergency Chiropractic Center.

In the underlying case, Judge Bosso-Pardo granted defendant’s Motion for Final Summary Judgment, entering final judgment for the defendant, State Farm, upon finding that the pre-suit demand letter, required by Florida Statute 627.736(10) (2010), was insufficient in that it demanded payment for services that were never billed to State Farm.

Judge Bosso-Pardo found that the Plaintiff’s “withdrawing” the unbilled service after suit had commenced was insufficient to cure the defect and that the demand letter requirements under Florida Statute 627.736(10) must be strictly construed and adhered to by those seeking to initiate litigation against a Florida PIP insurer.

The Circuit Court affirmed this decision, concluding that section 627.736(10) requires strict compliance and that, in this case, the demand letter did not strictly comply with the PIP statute requirements. As such, Lake Worth Emergency Chiropractic Center failed to satisfy the condition precedent to filing its law suit, and the trial court was correct in awarding final summary judgment in favor of State Farm.

The case is Lake Worth Emergency Chiropractic Center v. State Farm, in the Fifteenth Judicial Court for Palm Beach County, Case No. 502012AP000034XXXXMB. Click on the link to read the court opinion.

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Filed under Case Law, Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008)

4th District Court of Appeal Denies Rehearing in PIP Benefit Dispute

The Fourth District Court of Appeal has denied motions for rehearing by appellants in a PIP case decided in the insurer’s favor. The case was the consolidation of two separate PIP cases.

Insureds in both cases sought treatment for injuries sustained in separate accidents and assigned their PIP benefits to their treatment providers. One of the insurers, State Farm, reduced the amount paid to Northwood Sports Medicine, and Northwoods subsequently sued. Prior to that filing, the insured’s PIP benefits were exhausted. State Farm moved for summary judgment; Northwoods amended its complaint to allege that State Farm reduced payments in bad faith. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment on the sole ground of exhaustion of benefits.

Likewise, in the second case, the insured assigned his benefits to Wellness Associates of Florida. USAA Insurance Co. reduced the payments to Wellness, and Wellness filed a complaint for damages. At the time the suit was filed, less than $14 in unpaid PIP benefits remained and, while the lawsuit was pending, PIP benefits were exhausted. USAA moved for summary judgment, Wellness amended its complaint to allege bad faith, and the trial court entered summary judgment based upon exhaustion of benefits.

For jurisdictional reasons, the appellate court transferred the Northwoods case to the circuit court. The question that the appellate court answered in the affirmative in the Wellness case is whether post-suit exhaustion of benefits absolves the insurer from responsibility to pay an otherwise valid claim where the exhaustion occurred after the insurer: (1) paid an amount that the provider claims is less than required by the contract; (2) received a pre-suit demand letter notifying the insurer of the medical provider’s dispute; and (3) was served with the filed complaint.

In its rationale, the court extended its decision in Simon v. Progressive, rejecting the “reserve or hold” theory by which an insurer is to put money in reserve if it denies or reduces a claim until that claim is resolved. The court concluded that “where the reasonableness of the provider’s claim is in dispute, post-suit exhaustion of benefits extinguishes the provider’s right to further payments, as long as exhaustion is prior to the establishment of the amount to which the medical provider is entitled to under PIP.” The court concluded that post-suit exhaustion of benefits—as was the case in Wellness—should be treated no differently than pre-suit exhaustion of benefits, as long as the amount of PIP benefits to which the provider is entitled has not been established. The court therefore affirmed the final judgment of the trial court in Wellness.

The case in the District Court of Appeal of The State of Florida Fourth District, January Term 2014, is Northwoods Sports Medicine and Physical Rehabilitation, Inc., (A/A/O Suzanne Cabrera), and Wellness Associates of Florida, Inc., (A/A/O Daniel North), Appellants, v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and USAA Casualty Insurance Company, Appellees, Nos. 4d11-1556 and 4d11-3796, [March 5, 2014]. Click on the link to read the June 4, 2014 ruling in the case.

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Filed under Case Law, Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008)

Attorney Fee Conflict Settled in Advanced Chiropractic v. UAIC

On May 29, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court issued a decision settling a conflict over the timeliness of filing for attorney’s fees.

The case originated in Broward County with an action filed by Advanced Chiropractic against United Automobile Insurance Co. (“UAIC”) for PIP benefits. During the course of the action, the attorney for Advanced moved offices and filed a change of address with the Clerk of Court. Two months later, Advanced and UAIC entered into a settlement agreement in which UAIC agreed to pay Advanced’s attorney’s fees. The trial court judge subsequently entered an order of dismissal in the case.

Advanced’s attorney never received a copy of the dismissal because the Clerk of Court failed to update its records concerning the address change. Once he learned of the dismissal, months later, counsel for Advanced filed a motion for attorney’s fees. Because the motion was filed past the mandatory 30-day deadline, the attorney moved to vacate the order of dismissal based on excusable neglect due to the court’s failure to update its records.

In a hearing on the motion to vacate the dismissal, the attorney for Advanced and an employee of the Clerk of Court both filed unsworn statements. The county court found that Advanced had established excusable neglect, vacated the order of dismissal, and allowed Advanced’s attorney to file a motion for attorney’s fees.

UAIC appealed the decision to the circuit court, contending that counsel for Advanced had not established excusable neglect. The circuit court held that, because the statements from the attorney and the Court’s employee were unsworn, there was not sufficient evidence to support the finding of excusable neglect. The circuit court therefore reinstated the order of dismissal.

Advanced appealed to the Fourth District, asserting that the circuit court had failed to apply the correct legal standard. The Fourth District concluded that Advanced had been denied due process and therefore quashed the decision of the circuit court.

Advanced then filed a motion for attorney’s fees. UAIC opposed the motion on the basis that it was untimely pursuant to the FL Rules of Appellate Procedure. The District Court dismissed UAIC’s argument based on the Rules of Appellate Procedure, but nonetheless denied the motion for attorney’s fees on the basis of the FL Supreme Court’s 1991 holding in Stockman v. Downs, which requires parties to plead entitlement to attorney’s fees.

The Fourth District held that, pursuant to the Stockman decision, the request for attorney’s fees must be made in the pleadings which, in this case, would be the petition, the response, or the reply. Because Advanced did not request fees in the petition or reply, the district court held that the motion was untimely. The state Supreme Court then agreed to review the case to consider whether the Fourth District misapplied the Stockman decision.

In the Stockman case, the Supreme Court addressed whether a prevailing party could raise entitlement to attorney’s fees for the first time by motion after trial. The Court held that a claim for attorney’s fees based upon a contract or statute is waived unless it is made in the pleadings. The Court explained that the fundamental concern is that the parties have notice of the claim as it may affect the decisions of the parties with respect to the case.

In distinguishing Stockman from this case, the Court noted that Stockman involved a request at the trial level and that the primary concern—lack of notice—is not implicated in the case at hand. Since Advanced requested attorney’s fees in both the county and circuit courts,   UAIC could not contend unfair surprise when Advanced again claimed entitlement to attorney’s fees. Consequently, the Court quashed the decision in the court below and remanded to the district court for a determination of the amount of attorney’s fees to which Advanced is entitled.

The case is Advanced Chiropractic And Rehabilitation Center, Corporation vs. United Automobile Insurance Company, Supreme Court of Florida, Case No. SC13-153, May 29, 2014.

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Filed under Case Law

Three Chiropractors Found Guilty of Federal Fraud Charges

Three Florida chiropractors involved in a plan to fraudulently obtain money from insurance agencies have been found guilty on federal money laundering and mail fraud charges.

The chiropractors—Hermann Diehl of Miami, Kenneth Karow of West Palm Beach, and Hal Mark Kreitman of Miami Beach—helped set up staged automobile accidents and then filed fake claims for “victims” of the crashes. They also billed insurance agencies for procedures that were not actually performed.

The verdict was rendered on April 22 by a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. A fourth defendant, Joel Antonio Simon Ramirez of West Palm Beach, was found guilty of helping to stage the accidents.

All four of the defendants were found guilty of money laundering and mail fraud, with sentencing set for July. They each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Readers of FLPIPGuide.com may recall that we wrote about Dr. Karow in a May 17, 2013 post titled, “92 Accused in Staged Accident Fraud Ring, $20 million in Fraudulent Claims.” At that time, an Operation Sledgehammer investigation revealed that chiropractors Lazaro Rodriguez, then 58, of Doral, and Kenneth Karow, then 53, were recruited to serve as owners of clinics involved in the ring.

 

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Filed under Case Law, Insurance Fraud

Florida Supreme Court Refuses to Review PIP Case

The Florida Supreme Court has refused to consider a petition seeking to overturn a 2012 state law reducing PIP benefits.

In an attempt to curb fraud and lower insurance rates, HB 119—Personal Injury Protection (PIP) for Auto Insurance Fraud—requires people involved in motor vehicle crashes to seek treatment within 14 days, and allows up to $10,000 in benefits for emergency medical conditions and up to $2,500 for non-emergency conditions.

The law also prevents accident victims from using PIP coverage to pay for treatment by certain medical providers, and set benchmarks for insurers to lower rates on PIP coverage.

In 2013, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the law illegally shut out some medical providers, namely acupuncturists and massage therapists.

As reported in an earlier blog post titled “Motion for Rehearing of Florida PIP Injunction is Denied,” the Florida First District Court of Appeal reversed the ruling in October, 2013, saying that the challengers to the law needed a “factual” plaintiff who had actually been harmed by the law rather than a hypothetical plaintiff, as named in the complaint. The Florida Supreme Court denied review of that decision in this week’s ruling.

An attorney representing medical providers who claim they were unfairly shut out by the law said he anticipates filing an amended case within 30 days using a named plaintiff alleged to have been harmed by the 2012 PIP reforms.

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

Chiropractors in $2.3 Million PIP Insurance Fraud Scheme will Face RICO Charges

A federal judge ruled that the chiropractors who were allegedly behind a $2.3 million ploy to defraud an insurance company must face charges for violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices.

In July 2012, GEICO Insurance Company filed a lawsuit against two Orlando-based clinics—KJ Chiropractic Center LLC and Wellness Pain & Rehab Inc.—in addition to their two founders and a number of co-conspirators, known as “runners.” These runners helped perpetrate the suspected scam by exploiting willing third-party participants who faked accidents and injuries.

According to an article in Courthouse News Service, U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell said in her order that the fraudulent PIP claims resulted in more than $2.3 million in unwarranted insurance benefits and emerged from:

  • Staged accidents;
  • Real accidents in which claimants received treatment at clinics even though they were not truly injured; and
  • Real accidents in which claimants incurred some injuries, but received treatments that were pre-programmed, unnecessary, excessive and unlawful.

GEICO charged that the defendants advanced their unlawful plot by paying “anyone who referred accident victims to the clinics, offering cash directly to patients who agreed to accept unnecessary chiropractic treatment.” The insurance company also claimed the clinics provided treatment that was not in the best interest of patients because its sole intent was to maximize profits, the article said.

The U.S. District Court for Florida’s Middle District, Orlando Division, adopted Judge David Baker’s full recommendations made in October 2013 to deny the defendants’ motion to dismiss a second amended complaint on all but one count.

Judge Honeywell Edwards said she felt that GEICO adequately supported its argument with “factual allegations to state plausible claims for relief. As such, the court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that GEICO’s claims are sufficiently pled.”

The case is GEICO v. KJ Chiropractic Center LLC et. al., U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Case No. 6:12-CV-1138-ORL-36-DAB. Click on the link to read the complaint.

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Filed under Case Law, Insurance Fraud

AHCA Revokes License of M&D Mobile Diagnostic

In 2008, M&D Mobile Diagnostic applied for and was issued a Certificate of Exemption to operate a health care clinic in Lake Worth, FL. In 2013, the state Agency for Health Care Administration filed an Administrative Complaint seeking to revoke that certificate and, on January 16, 2014, issued a final order revoking M&D Mobile’s exemption certificate.

In accordance with Florida law, a health care clinic must be licensed if it provides health care services to individuals and then bills third party payers for those services. An exception to the licensing rule exists where health care services are provided by a “licensed health care practitioner,” as defined by statute, and the business is wholly owned by that practitioner. Under those circumstances, the term “clinic” does not apply, and the entity may claim to be exempt from licensure and receive a “Certificate of Exemption” from the state health care administration.

The applicant, Michael Josaphat, based his claim for exemption from licensure on being a licensed health care practitioner, as defined by statute. However, Josaphat’s license is for a Certified Radiologic Technologist license. The Health Care Agency determined that such a license is not one fitting the statutory definition of “licensed health care practitioner,” and therefore does not entitle Josaphat to a Certificate of Exemption. The Agency ordered, therefore, that the certificate be revoked and M&D subject to sanctions.

The case is State of Florida, Agency for Health Care Administration, v. M&D Mobile Diagnostic Imaging, Inc., Case No. 13-544PH, AHCA File No. 2013010999.

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Filed under Case Law

State Farm v. MR Services I, Inc.

In accordance with Florida’s PIP Statute, Plaintiff State Farm informally requested discovery from Defendant MR Services pursuant to Fla. St. § 627.736(6)(b). MR Services informally responded, but only in part, and the responses were deemed inadequate and incomplete. State Farm petitioned the Court for an order permitting discovery.

MR Services argued that it need not fully respond to the discovery requests because State Farm could obtain the discovery it wanted from other cases pending in Broward County. The Court held that, while this may be true, it does not preclude discovery under the provisions of the PIP Statute.

The Court therefore granted the Motion to Allow Discovery and required that MR Services produce all documents and information requested by State Farm.

State Farm is thus entitled to:

  • Take the depositions of Dr. Mark Gans, Gary Howle, and Stacy Howle
  • Issue a third-party subpoena to LinkedIn for account information on subscriber Gary Howle
  • Receive from MR Services complete income tax returns, financial statements, and balance sheets from 2008 through 2012

Click on the link to view the Order in State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. vs. MR Services, Inc., No. 16-2013-CA-1731-XXXX-MA (Fla. 4th Cir. Ct. 2014).

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Filed under Case Law