State Senator Says ‘Urgency’ Gone for Replacing Florida PIP

A recent Florida appeals court ruling is proving to be a major setback for an effort to scrap a state law that requires drivers to carry personal injury protection (PIP) car insurance, according to the Florida lawmaker who has led the effort.

Last week, the First District Court of Appeal ruled that reforms made last year to the state’s PIP law could stand, at least for now.

That will make it much harder for Republican state Sen. David Simmons to move forward with a bill to do away with the state’s PIP law. Sen. Simmons, who is the chair of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, has been planning an attempt to replace the state’s no-fault car insurance system with a liability system similar to what’s in place in most states.

The challenged PIP reforms at the center of the court case were passed by the Florida Legislature last year to try and curb instances of fraud, waste and other forms of financial mismanagement embedded in the state’s no-fault auto insurance system.

The reforms had been put on hold after a consortium of health care providers challenged them in court, arguing that the overhaul of the PIP system blocked motorists’ constitutional right of access to the courts.

In the end, the appeals court rejected the challenge to the reforms not because they were found to be constitutional but because the challenge had been brought by a group of health care providers instead of the driving public that would be affected by the law. As a result, the health care providers didn’t have the standing to bring the case forward, the court ruled.

Senator Calls Court Ruling a ‘Roadmap’

That ruling, according to Sen. Simmons, is a signal to the Legislature to fix the law before drivers do end up challenging it in court themselves.

“What the court is telling the Legislature is ‘we’re giving you a roadmap to fix this,’” Sen. David Simmons, chair of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, told Online Auto Insurance News (OAIN). “When they ruled that injured motorists could bring a suit [against PIP reforms] later, they are telling us, ‘this statute is unconstitutional and you need to fix it.’”

Industry groups who supported the reforms, like the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, are saying they anticipate future challenges to the reforms.

“Although today’s ruling was a victory for Florida’s consumers, we anticipate those that make a living profiting off of PIP will again attempt to challenge this law,” the statement read. “We hope that does not happen and Florida’s consumers will no longer be stuck in neutral.”

A ‘Tough, Uphill Climb’

Despite the court seemingly leaving the door open for future suits, the question for Simmons now is how the Legislature responds.

Simmons had been planning to introduce a bill to scrap the PIP system before last week’s decision. But he, along with two legislative staffers, told OAIN that the ruling upholding the PIP reforms takes away a motivation for lawmakers to replace PIP.

Simmons had been studying how to repeal PIP and replace it with a mandatory bodily injury liability insurance requirement that requires insurers to establish fault in auto insurance claims. However, with the appeals court upholding the constitutionality of the PIP reforms—for now—lawmakers may be less inclined to consider the issue, especially during a year when Gov. Rick Scott is asking the legislature for $100 million in budget cuts.

Two legislative staffers, speaking on the condition they not be identified, indicated that trying to scrap PIP this session may be a non-starter for the Legislature as the budget, gambling and other legislation takes center stage during a gubernatorial election year.

Simmons himself conceded replacing PIP would be a tough sell.

“It would be a tough, uphill climb to pass a new insurance plan even if the court found [PIP reform] unconstitutional,” Simmons said. “This [ruling] makes it even harder. But it doesn’t change my views. The ruling just means there’s not an urgency there that previously existed.”

The Republican senator said he has not spoke to the Florida Senate president about replacing PIP since the court ruling, which is a key sign that repealing PIP lacks support among the legislative leadership. However, Simmons said he plans on making “a strong appeal” during a committee hearing on November 5.

“We’re going to test the waters,” he said.

Simmons is leading the push to replace PIP, and told OAIN earlier this month that the insurance industry was backing his efforts, in part because they expected the appeal court to rule the PIP reforms unconstitutional.

“Some insurance companies feel like they dodged a bullet,” Simmons said of the ruling, as it allows the PIP reform to continue without insurers having to help create a new auto insurance system. “But the ruling doesn’t change my views. PIP is a broken system that can’t be fixed.”

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