Florida Supreme Court refuses to hear PIP law challenge

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The Florida Supreme Court announced it would not take up a challenge filed by acupuncturists and massage therapists trying to overturn a 2012 law designed to amend the state’s no-fault auto insurance system.

The case centered on whether unnamed plaintiffs have legal “standing” to undertake the challenge.

However, the case can be re-filed, but with named plaintiffs, according to Adam Levine, attorney for the challengers.

Because of the decision, Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty told Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida that the law proceeds as if “nothing changes.”

Another result of the Supreme Court order is that Senate Banking and Insurance Chairman David Simmons will have to wait to move ahead with a proposal dismantle the personal-injury protection insurance system, referred to as “no-fault.” Simmons’ planned to replace no-fault with bodily-injury coverage.

“Many people have suggested, ‘Let’s give it one more year’,” Simmons said. “I believe there is an opportunity to have more information and gauge then what to do.”

Passed in 2012, the PIP law was a final effort to preserve the no-fault system, setting targets for insurers as a way to lower rates on personal-injury protection coverage. People involved in motor vehicle accidents would have 14 days to seek treatment, and allowed up to $10,000 in benefits for emergency medical conditions. The law also capped non-emergency conditions at $2,500.

Pushing the law were Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, insisting that widespread fraud — mostly in Tampa and Miami — resulted in spikes in the cost of auto-insurance coverage statewide, writes Turner.

In March 2013, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis decided the law illegally prohibited accident victims from applying PIP coverage for treatment by acupuncturists, massage therapists and limited chiropractor services.

Lewis also saw fault with lower limits on coverage the law placed on non-emergency medical care.

The First District Court of Appeal reversed the ruling in October, finding that the challengers needed a “factual” named motorist harmed by the law, rather than the theoretical “Jane Doe” listed as a plaintiff.

“I think the 1st DCA made it clear … that as far as they were concerned if the plaintiffs could find real people to prosecute the lawsuit, that there was a violation of constitutional rights,” Simmons told Turner, adding he expects the law to be overturned eventually.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.