Tag Archives: PIP insurance

Auto Insurers Warn that Driverless Cars May Affect Profitability

While driverless cars could be hitting the roads in as little as five years from now, many auto insurers are worried about the far-reaching implications this autonomous technology could have on their industry’s bottom line. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), the industry brought in $107.4 billion in passenger-car auto insurance premiums in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available.

In a March 3rd Wall Street Journal article, “The Driverless Car, Officially, Is a Risk,” it was reported that three insurance suppliers as well as an auto parts manufacturer have already cautioned investors in their most recent annual reports that the dawn of the self-driving vehicle and its technology may greatly affect their business model in the future.

Companies usually regard their annual report’s risk-factor disclosures as a place to point out potential difficulties and disruptions and to protect against their liability—not as a prediction of what’s to come. But the fact that driverless cars have been mentioned in several annual reports is telling.

According to the WSJ article, Cincinnati Financial Corp., which produces about a quarter of its premiums from commercial and consumer auto policies, warned its forecasts could be flawed due to “Disruption of the insurance market caused by technology innovations such as driverless cars that could decrease consumer demand for insurance products.”

In addition, Mercury General Corp. said that “the advent of driverless cars and usage-based insurance could materially alter the way that automobile insurance is marketed, priced, and underwritten.” The company provides most of its auto coverage in California.

Industry analysts believe a variety of consequences could result by taking the driver out of the equation:

  • Insurers may sell fewer individual policies
  • Insurers may have to cover fewer accidents
  • Technologically-advanced cars may cost more to repair
  • Some of the expense from consumer auto insurance may shift to commercial liability policies as more automakers and software firms face litigation for accidents
  • Larger policyholders could have more bargaining power than many small ones, potentially putting more pressure on premium revenue

The Insurance Information Institute also addressed this topic on its website. According to the III’s recently-updated report, driverless cars are viewed by the organization as one natural outgrowth from a multitude of advances in safety technology.

Numerous developers of driverless cars are concerned that regulatory matters and costs could delay their launches to market, but in any event, these technologies are still moving forward.

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2012)

Court Order Issued in PIP Case Alleging Exorbitant Hospital Fees

On February 20, 2015, Judge James S. Moody, Jr., of the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, issued a ruling in the case Herrera, et al. v. JFK Medical Center, et al. That suit, brought in 2014 by four Florida drivers, alleges that the defendant hospitals are exhausting Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits by grossly overcharging for services—at up to 65 times what Medicare pays. The lawsuit names JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Memorial Hospital Jacksonville, North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville, and HCA Holdings, Inc. as defendants.

The plaintiffs, injured in separate motor vehicle accidents, received emergency radiological services at the named HCA-operated defendant hospitals. The services were covered by the plaintiffs’ PIP insurance. The plaintiffs allege that they were charged an “exorbitant” rate for these services, thereby prematurely exhausting their PIP benefits and leaving them with medical expenses in excess of what they would otherwise have to pay.

Plaintiffs allege causes of action for violation of the Florida Deceptive Unfair Trade Practices Act (“FDUTPA”), breach of contract, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Plaintiffs sought to have the case certified as a class action.

At a February 17, 2015 hearing, the defendants made motions to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint and motions to strike the class allegations. Judge Moody granted the motions in part and denied them in part, as discussed below.

First, HCA argued in its motion to dismiss that, since it is the ultimate parent company of the hospitals, it has no direct liability for the hospitals’ actions. The court, however, held that plaintiffs’ had sufficiently pled a cause of action when they pled that HCA is directly involved in setting and enforcing hospital guidelines and that the hospitals acted as agents of HCA.

Second, the defendants argued that plaintiffs FDUTPA claims fail because plaintiffs cannot allege that HCA was engaged in “trade or commerce” as required by the statute. Recognizing that other courts have held that the types of allegations the plaintiffs are making support a FDUTPA claim, the court held that plaintiffs may proceed to attempt to prove their case.

Third, plaintiffs allege breach of contract based on incorporation of the PIP statute into plaintiffs’ contracts with the hospitals. Because the PIP statute requires that only “reasonable” amounts may be charged, plaintiffs allege that defendants breached the contracts by charging unreasonable rates. The court concluded that plaintiffs may incorporate the PIP statute’s reasonable requirement into the contracts and therefore proceed with the breach of contract claim.

Third, in Count III of their amended complaint, plaintiffs allege that the defendant hospitals breached their duty of good faith and fair dealing by charging them unreasonable rates for medical services. Because plaintiffs failed to allege that an express term of the contract had been breached, the court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

Finally, defendants moved to strike the class allegations because individual issues predominate. The court agreed that, given the nature of the claims and individual factual inquiries required, the individualized issues are predominant and the suit cannot proceed as a class action. As a result of that ruling, only one of the plaintiffs—Marisela Herrera—may proceed with the action. The remaining plaintiffs were dismissed without prejudiced to file separate, individual actions.

Click on the link to view the court order in Marisela Herrera et al., v. JFK Medical Center Limited Partnership, et al., Case No. 8:14-cv-2327-T-30TBM in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

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

Florida Hit-and-Run Accidents Jump in 2014

One out of four crashes in Florida now involves a hit-and-run driver, according to statistics recently released by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV).

Florida hit-and-run crashes increased by seven percent from 2013 to 2014, reaching a new high of more than 80,000 accidents. The three South Florida counties of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach collectively represent 40 percent of the statewide totals, according to the department.

The severity of hit-and-run accidents also appears to be increasing, with a 23 percent increase in hit-and-run fatalities in 2014 over 2013. Pedestrians are particularly at risk. Almost 50 percent of the 2014 hit-and-run fatalities were pedestrians, representing a jump of 17 percent over 2013.

An infographic published as DHSMV as part of Florida’s driver education campaign, “Hit & Run: Bad2Worse,” appears below.

Florida Hit & Run Accident Statistics 2014.

It is a first-degree felony to leave the scene of an accident when a fatality is involved, and a felony of the third degree when an accident results in an injury, according to law enforcement personnel. Leaving the scene of an accident involving property damage is a second-degree misdemeanor.

The Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, which became law in Florida last year, imposes a mandatory minimum prison sentence of four years for a driver convicted of leaving the scene of a crash resulting in the death of a person.

Click on the link for more information on Florida hit-and-run accidents from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

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Filed under Uncategorized

Florida has Highest Rates of Fraud and Claim Buildup Among PIP Claims, Says IRC

Between $5.6 billion and $7.7 billion in excess payments for auto injury claims were paid out in the United States in 2012, according to the Insurance Research Council (IRC). The organization released a new study revealing these excess payments were the result of claim buildup (inflating legitimate claims) and fraud. Under the five main private passenger auto injury coverages, this dollar amount represented between 13 percent and 17 percent of all total payments, the IRC said.

Researchers determined that 21 percent of bodily injury (BI) and 18 percent of personal injury protection (PIP) claims closed with payment “had the appearance of fraud and/or buildup in 2012.” The most common type of abuse they detected was claim buildup—accounting for 15 percent of dollars paid for BI and PIP claims that year.

They also found that fraud and claim buildup seemed to be more pervasive in no-fault insurance states. States with the highest rates of fraud and claim buildup among PIP claims included:

  • Florida (31 percent)
  • New York (24 percent)
  • Massachusetts (22 percent)
  • Minnesota (22 percent)

Claims with the appearance of fraud and/or buildup were also more likely than other claims to involve chiropractic treatment, physical therapy, alternative medicine, and the use of pain killer medications.

“The costs associated with auto injury claim abuse make auto insurance more expensive for everyone,” said Elizabeth Sprinkel, senior vice president of the IRC. “Efforts to lower insurance costs must include measures aimed at reducing the amount of fraud and buildup in the system.”

Ongoing IRC research into the causes of growing auto injury claim severity prompted the study, Fraud and Buildup in Auto Injury Insurance Claims. The research is based on more than 35,000 auto injury claims closed with payment under the five principal private passenger coverages. Twelve insurers, representing 52 percent of the private passenger auto insurance market in the United States, participated in the study.

The report also details several claim handling techniques used by insurers to identify and investigate claim abuse, including independent medical exams, peer medical reviews, and special investigative units. However, the additional costs associated with these efforts to fight fraud and claim buildup are not included in the IRC estimates of excess payments, the IRC reported.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

Driving in Florida May Be Hazardous to Your Wallet, New Study Finds

You don’t want to have a car accident in Florida, according to a new study released by WalletHub last week. Their numbers ranked states on how ‘safe’ it is for drivers’ finances after an accident. The study placed Florida dead last among 50 states and the District of Columbia—which means driving in the Sunshine State can be risky to your wallet.

In producing the rankings, WalletHub looked at whether drivers had insurance and whether that insurance would be enough to cover the damages in the event of a car accident. They found significant differences between states. Specifically, the study took into account available car liability insurance to protect others, other forms of required insurance to protect drivers, and the percentage of uninsured drivers in each state.

When those three factors come together, Florida holds the dubious distinction of being the “worst state to get into a car crash,” WalletHub says. Here’s why:

  1. Insurance requirements in Florida are lower than in most other states. Florida drivers are only required to carry minimum liability coverage of $10,000 per person. The amount goes up to a $20,000 minimum for accidents involving multiple parties. By comparison, Maine and Alaska—the states ranked highest—both require $50,000 in coverage up to two people and $25,000 in property damage insurance, according to WalletHub.
  2. A high percentage of Florida drivers are uninsured. According to the study, 23.8 percent of drivers carry no auto insurance. Florida is only surpassed by Oklahoma, which has 25.9 percent uninsured drivers on the road. The best state where drivers have coverage is Massachusetts—only 3.9 percent of their drivers are uninsured
  3. Florida does not require additional forms of insurance coverage to protect drivers. Although Florida does require personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, the state does not require medical payment coverage or uninsured motorist coverage for bodily injuries or personal damage.

What can Florida drivers do? Experts recommend spending a few extra dollars to add uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage to your auto insurance policy to offer protection.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

11th Circuit Appellate Division Rules Insurer’s Adjuster Notes not Discoverable

On January 5, 2015, the Appellate Division of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County issued a ruling reversing the lower court’s order compelling production of the insurer’s pre-litigation documents.  The court held that such documents are not discoverable in a first-party coverage lawsuit between the insured and the insurer.

In 2011, respondent Yesenia Romero sued State Farm for PIP benefits, alleging State Farm breached the insurance contract and violated the Florida PIP statute in not paying for claims resulting from a 2009 motor vehicle accident. Romero filed a request for State Farm’s “entire claims file concerning the case,” including all of the adjuster’s notes made prior to the pre-suit demand letter.  State Farm objected to the production, asserting work-product privilege.

A hearing on the issue was held in the trial court.  Following an in camera inspection of the adjuster’s notes, the judge determined that they were not protected under the work-product doctrine because they were not prepared in anticipation of litigation.  The court ordered State Farm to produce all the adjuster’s notes.  State Farm sought to have the appellate division quash the order.

In its analysis, the appellate division noted that all three levels of Florida’s judiciary, including its own court, have said that an insurance company’s claims file documents are not discoverable in a first-party coverage and damages lawsuit between an insurer and the insured. The court cited a Third District case, Castle Key v. Benitez, in concluding that “where the insured is not seeking a bad faith claim, but rather seeks relief for breach of contract,” the insurer’s claims file documents are not discoverable.

In this case, where the plaintiff was alleging breach of contract and not bad faith, the appellate division determined that the trial court erred in ordering State Farm to produce the documents and therefore quashed the trials court’s order.

State Farm v. Yesenia Romero, Case No. 13-48 AP (Fla. 11th Circuit January 5, 2015).

Castle Key Ins. Co. v. Benitez, 124 So. 3d 379 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013).

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

Appellate Court Rules that Two Providers Not “Prevailing Insureds”

A trial court ruling awarding attorney’s fees to two medical treatment providers was reversed by the Appellate Division of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County in an opinion filed January 9, 2015. The court concluded that the providers did not constitute “prevailing insureds” and therefore were not entitled to the statutory award of attorney’s fees.

Fritznel Leconte was allegedly injured in an automobile accident on July 22, 2006, while insured by a PIP insurance policy issued by United Automobile Insurance Co. He received treatment from two providers—A Rehab Associates and Med Plus Centers—and assigned his PIP claims to them. The cases were tried separately and consolidated on appeal.

In response to a pre-suit statutory Demand Letter, United determined it was responsible only for the cost of the pre-IME (Independent Medical Exam) treatments and offered A Rehab $595.20 and Med Plus $1,324.80. At trial, verdicts were returned in favor of the providers for the exact amounts offered earlier by United.

The providers filed motions for attorney’s fees as “prevailing insureds” pursuant to Florida Statutes section 627.428. That statute grants an insured the right to recover attorney’s fees when the insured obtains a judgment or decree against the insurer, i.e., is a “prevailing insured.” The question before the court was whether an insured is a “prevailing insured” when it obtains a judgment no better than the amount offered by the insurer pre-suit.

The court held that the “prevailing insured” referred to in the statute is “one who has obtained a judgment greater than any offer of settlement tendered by the insurer.” Put another way, “insureds who rejects settlement offers that would make them whole cannot seek attorney’s fees under section 627.428.”

In this case, the judgments received were not greater than the amount offered by the insurer prior to the suit, so the insureds do not qualify as “prevailing insureds” and are not entitled to attorney’s fees pursuant to section 627.428.

United Automobile Ins. Co. v. A Rehab Assoc. and United Automobile Ins. Co. v. Med Plus Centers, Case Nos. 12-413 AP, 13-148 AP, 12-381 AP, 13-147 AP (Fla. 11th Cir. January 9, 2015).

Click on the link to access the court ruling.

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