A new opinion was recently released by the Florida 9th Circuit Court in its appellate capacity interpreting Fla. Stat. § 627.736(6)(g) and the timely scheduling of Examinations Under Oath (EUOs). This case reaffirms that as a general rule, an insurer ought to schedule the initial EUO in any claim under investigation to occur within 30 days of receipt of the first bill to ensure that the investigation is being conducted well within the time limits set forth in the PIP statute without obliging the insurer to issue a payment of the subject bill prior to investigation.
In Geico Indemnity Co. v. Central Florida Chiropractic Care a/a/o David Cherry (2016-CV-000038-A-O), Central Florida Chiropractic sued Geico for breach of contract for failure to pay overdue PIP benefits. Geico asserted as an affirmative defense that coverage was appropriately denied because the assignor failed to appear for two EUOs.
Central Florida Chiropractic contested Geico’s above-described defense because the EUOs were scheduled to occur more than 30 days after the date on which Central Florida Chiropractic had submitted the bills for the alleged charges at issue and, thus, the EUOs were unreasonably set to occur beyond the 30-day statutory period for payment of said bills. In fact, the Court noted, the first EUO request was not even sent until after 30 days had lapsed. Further, Geico had not informed the claimant pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 627.736(4)(i) that his claim was pending investigation.
The 9th Circuit ruled that even though attendance at an EUO is a condition precedent to receiving PIP benefits under Fla. Stat. § 627.736(6)(g), this provision “cannot be read in a vacuum.” The Court specifically looked to section (4)(b), which requires provider bills to be processed within 30 days of receipt, and to section (4)(i), which states that the claimant should be notified in writing within 30 days of filing the claim that an investigation is under way. Geico argued that section (4)(i) permits a 60-day extension of time for investigation beyond 30 days, but the Court pointed out that Geico failed to send any letter notifying the claimant of the investigation in this case, so the 30-day window was not extended.
The Court also explained that timely payment of the provider bills does not foreclose the insurer from investigating the claim. Nonetheless, “nothing in the statute additionally excuses the insurer’s potential breach for failure to pay a PIP claim within 30 days as contemplated by section 627.736(4)(b).”
Therefore, Geico could not enforce the EUO as condition precedent to receiving PIP benefits because by the time it had scheduled the EUOs, it was already in breach of the policy as the provider’s bills were not timely paid within 30 days. “[B]ecause Geico was already in breach of the insurance contract before the EUOs were scheduled to take place, [the assignor] was not obliged to submit to them.”
The Geico case is the latest in a long line of opinions and trial court orders, starting with Amador v. United Auto. Ins. Co., 748 So. 2d 307 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999), which holds that an EUO does not toll or extend the 30-day period within which an insurer must pay otherwise timely, compensable charges pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 627.736(4)(b). Courts have also ruled that the insurer does not comply with the 30-day requirement if it coordinates the EUO within 30 days, but the EUO is nonetheless scheduled to occur beyond the 30-day window. (See Micro-Diagnostics & South Florida Inst. of Medicina a/a/o Luz Solarte v. United Auto. Ins. Co., 12 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 248a (Fla. 11th Cir. Ct. App. 2004). In general, an insurer cannot defend claims on the basis of a claimant’s failure to attend an EUO if said EUO is scheduled to occur outside the 30-day period after submission of the medical bills. (See Humanitary Health Care, Inc. a/a/o Juan Esquivel v. United Auto. Ins. Co., 12 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 531b (Fla. 11th Cir. Ct. 2005).
However, a Miami-Dade appellate court did find that an insurer may still benefit from the claimant’s failure to appear for an EUO if said EUO is initially scheduled to occur within 30 days, but then rescheduled for a later date at the claimant’s request. (See West Dixie Rehab. & Medical Ctr. v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 10 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 16a (Fla. 11th Cir. Ct. App. 2002)).
The above cases make clear that any communications regarding the re-scheduling of an EUO ought to be done in writing, with language that clearly communicates that the change in date was done to accommodate the request of the insured or insured’s attorney. When appropriate, the insurer may send a letter to the claimant or claimant’s attorney pursuant to section (4)(i) advising that a claim is under investigation within 30 days of the claim filing. This will extend the time period within which an investigation may be conducted up to 90days after the submission of the claim, and thus allows additional time before any provider bills must be processed.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss this issue in greater detail, please feel free to contact us.
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