With legislation passing the Florida House and sailing through its first committee in the Florida Senate, the first week of the 2018 Legislative Session has been a watershed week for supporters of passing mandatory bodily injury legislation in Florida. FJA has been one of those long-time supporters of having Florida join the other 48 states in the country that require drivers to carry bodily injury insurance.
Late Friday afternoon, the Florida House passed HB 19, sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall on a vote of 88-15. The legislation is essentially a straight repeal of Florida’s PIP no-fault auto insurance system and replaces it with a requirement the drivers have bodily injury coverage at liability limits of $25,000/$50,000.
“I will point you to the staff analysis, the Pinnacle reports, that say that we will be able to do this as a cost reduction to the average driver in Florida. I think that that’s very important. A savings of $81 per vehicle is significant,” Rep. Grall said as she closed on her proposal. “Let’s stop putting a band-aid on something and make real, meaningful change because the cost of PIP is continuing to rise and the coverage is diminishing. People don’t have meaningful coverage when they’re on our roads and the severity of accidents has increased.”
Earlier in the week, the Florida Senate Banking and Insurance Committee heard SB 150, the companion bill. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee, provides a phased-in increase in required drivers’ bodily injury liability insurance from $20,000/$40,000 beginning next year leveling off at $30,000/$60,000 in 2023.
“A $10,000 PIP policy is estimated to be (worth) $1,209 today. And a $25/$50 (thousand) BI policy with a $5,000 MedPay is $4 more,” Sen. Lee said, referencing how the value of PIP’s $10,000 limit has shrunk since it went into effect in 1979.
Sen. Lee said the change would bring a more efficient system and noted that, under the bill, a policyholder would pay $49 per thousand of insurance coverage under mandatory BI while under PIP, the cost is $121 per thousand.
Christine Rodriguez traveled from Clermont to tell the committee her story of how the state’s “broken PIP system” has wrecked her life. She was the victim of three separate car accidents.
None were her fault and two were with drivers carrying only PIP.
“That did me no good with my medical expenses,” said Rodriguez, noting how under the no-fault law, the other drivers’ PIP coverage did not cover her injuries.
As a result of the accidents, Rodriguez was fired from her job. Because she had three accident claims, her insurance rates skyrocketed even though she was not at fault.
She lays the fault at the feet of the state’s no-fault insurance law.
“Please consider the bill that is being presented today and consider what the current PIP system is doing to Florida innocent drivers,” Rodriguez told committee members. “Let’s have a system that protects injured drivers, first. And promote financial responsibility on the roads.”
FJA President Dale Swope testified that after 40 years of legislative tinkering and with criminals fraudulently exploiting the system, PIP is unsalvageable.
“It could not get worse than our system is under PIP. This idea that everybody is treated the same, that it doesn’t matter who’s at fault in causing the accident, we’re going to treat the drunk driver the same as the innocent mother who was injured by the drunk driver, is fundamentally wrong,” Swope told the committee. “There is now a moral imperative that the FJA is prepared to accept and embrace, that we logically should insure people against the negligent damage that we all might cause.”
Swope went on to explain how the Sen. Lee’s MedPay proposal provides a good blueprint for moving forward.
“This MedPay component that is being put into the bill, with its careful adjustments to stop fraud, that is the sweet spot that brings us in with premiums lower in the urban areas of our state, and in South Florida where PIP abuse has been most prevalent” Swope said.
After changing the bill to allow chiropractors and dentists to participate in providing services paid by MedPay, the committee passed the bill (10-1). It now goes to the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.
On the heels of the vote, Politico-Florida reported that Sen. Bill Galvano, the incoming Senate president, “wants to land a deal on repealing personal injury protection for auto insurance this session and move toward mandatory bodily injury protection.”
By this week’s action, one thing is clear: auto insurance reform is in play in 2018.
Ryan Banfill is communications director for the Florida Justice Association. E-mail him at rbanfill@FloridaJusticeAssociation.org or follow him on Twitter @RyBan1001.