New Auto Insurance Laws in Effect in Florida Have Not Benefited Consumers and Should Be Changed, says Melbourne Auto Accident Lawyer

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New laws on Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance that took effect for 2013 are causing more headaches for drivers who are injured in motor vehicle accidents. Melbourne auto accident lawyer James Coulter explains the changes and calls on the Florida Legislature to reverse them.

"The changes to PIP have been a disaster, and the only beneficiaries have been the insurance companies," said James Coulter, Melbourne auto accident lawyer.

Three months after significant changes to Florida's personal injury protection laws, Florida accident victims have experienced more aggravation and limitations on their ability to seek and pay for care, but have not experienced promised savings, said James Coulter, Melbourne auto accident lawyer.

"The changes to PIP have been a disaster, and the only beneficiaries have been the insurance companies," Coulter said. "The Florida Legislature is responsible for these changes and now, during their current session, is the time to reverse them.    It’s time that we start holding our legislatures here in Florida accountable for supporting the insurance companies over the interests of our citizens.”

Personal injury protection insurance, also known as “PIP,” is currently a legally required portion of auto insurance for all Florida drivers. It covers an individual’s medical bills regardless of who is at fault in when an accident occurs. PIP also covers the policy holder's children, members of the policy owner's household and some passengers in the policy holder's vehicle who do not carry PIP insurance. In addition to protecting the policy holder while he or she is driving, it also covers auto accidents in which the policy owner was cycling or a pedestrian. Florida drivers are required to carry $10,000 worth of PIP insurance, and the policy is supposed to cover at least 80 percent of all "necessary and reasonable" medical expenses.

In 2012, the state changed its PIP regulations due to a new law passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott. While drivers are still required to carry (and pay for) a PIP policy that covers up to $10,000, the insurance will only pay out up to $2,500 unless a doctor, osteopathic physician, dentist, supervised physician's assistant or advanced registered nurse practitioner determines an injury to be an "emergency medical condition." Additionally, policy holders and those covered must start medical treatment within 14 days of the accident, or their PIP policy covers nothing.

According to Gov. Scott and those in favor of the changes to PIP, these changes were implemented in an effort to curb alleged fraud. Most of the changes agreed upon went into effect January 1, 2013. The savings from the cessation of fraud was supposed to save policy holders big money. But three months into the most of the major changes went into effect, policy owners have not seen savings, Coulter said.

"Florida drivers have not seen the great savings in our insurance premiums that were promised," Coulter said. "Instead, as a Melbourne auto accident attorney, I've seen Florida accident victims have their hands tied when trying to seek treatment for their injuries."

“It’s egregious that the governor and those other legislatures that supported this change try to hide behind the guise that it was meant to curb alleged fraud," Coulter continued. " The truth is that the only reason these officials supported the change was because the big money coming from insurance companies into the lobby process has our legislatures doing whatever they want so that the insurance companies can save on medical bills that they once had to pay out.”

The two-week time period does not give enough time for victims to address their medical concerns, Coulter said, particularly those who have whiplash and other injuries that can seem innocuous at first but have long-term effects that can be crippling.

Additionally, medical bills after an auto accident can be astronomical, even for a so-called minor injury, Coulter said. For example, a back injury may not be an "emergency" condition, but can lead to months of physical therapy and rehabilitation that can very easily exceed the $10,000 limit, much less the $2,500 if the injury is not considered an "emergency medical condition."

Coulter called on the Legislature, which began its annual session this month, to reverse the changes to PIP law. House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have both expressed reservations and concerns since the law went into effect ("Gaetz wants explanations on PIP reform," Tampa Tribune, Feb, 20, 2013"). Both have the capacity to act to push forward such legislation. The session ends May 3.

"Legislators should be keeping in mind their many constituents who become the victims of auto accidents every day — and not their insurance company campaign contributors and that’s the simple bottom line," Coulter said.

James Coulter, of the Law Offices of Germain & Coulter, LLC, is a Brevard County personal injury lawyer. A former prosecutor, Coulter began his personal injury practice after becoming the victim of a commercial truck accident, in which he suffered spinal injuries and witnessed the actions of insurance companies firsthand through the victim's eyes.

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