Judges question challenge to insurance law
A three-judge appeals panel expressed skepticism Tuesday about a challenge by acupuncturists, massage therapists and chiropractors to key parts of the state's 2012 landmark reform of the personal-injury protection auto insurance.
The 1st District Court of Appeal judges questioned how the changes to the decades-old no-fault insurance system reduced individual medical coverage or access to courts as the Florida PIP Defense Fund, which has challenged the law, contends.
Judge T. Kent Wetherell hit on the use of an unnamed "Jane Doe" as a means by the Defense Fund to qualify for standing in the case and to represent individuals injured by motor-vehicle collisions. The fund also named acupuncturist Robin Myers, chiropractor Gregory Zwirn and massage therapists Sherry Smith and Carrie Damaska as plaintiffs in the suit.
"A lot of these cases are situations where there is no driver at fault," Wetherell said during the 36-minute hearing. "This is someone making a claim against their own insurance company, and thus there would be no lawsuit to beginning with, so that to me is another reason this is not a real lawsuit."
While the judges expressed a desire to expedite a ruling, no timeline was offered for a decision on the state's request to overturn a temporary injunction that was imposed on certain parts of the law in March.
The 2012 law signed by Gov. Rick Scott requires those involved in motor vehicle crashes to seek treatment within 14 days, allows up to $10,000 in benefits for emergency medical conditions and $2,500 for non-emergency conditions.
The bill was considered a last ditch effort to maintain the no-fault, or PIP, system that requires motorists to carry $10,000 in medical coverage.
The alternative is to replace the system with bodily-injury insurance, which could put more questions of medical coverage into the courts as injured parties seek to recoup expenses from at-fault motorists.
Senate Banking and Insurance Chairman David Simmons, R-Maitland, may again propose the state take such a route during the 2014 legislative session. A spokeswoman from Simmons' office said Tuesday that the senator awaits the outcome of the lawsuit against the 2012 law before taking any action to eliminate PIP.
In March, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis sided with the challenge to sections of the law, declaring a month later that under the law individuals injured in crashes may not be able to receive the necessary medical care.
In a scathing critique of the no-fault law, Lewis blasted the system as a "socialist" scheme that deprived individuals of their rights.
Scott and state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater championed the 2012 reform law as a means to reduce fraud in auto insurance that they claim collectively has hit motorists by as much as $1 billion a year through the increased costs of coverage.
Wetherell noted that the economic impacts on the unnamed individuals and the care providers would face a similar economic future if PIP is eliminated.
Adam Levine, an attorney representing the Florida PIP Defense Fund, said that the impacted medical providers are faced with economic harm through a drop in doctor-patient relationships. Levine also praised Lewis for considering issues bigger than standing by basing his ruling upon economic impacts.
"The injustice in this case, you have an acupuncturist, you have a massage therapist who are being told your care is invalid and we're not going to pay for it," Levine said. "The state of Florida shouldn't be practicing medicine and saying this is reasonable care."