New Statute To Help Deflect Frivolous ADA Lawsuits

As reported in the Miami Herald, Florida lawmakers have implemented a new law aimed at ADA public accommodation compliance lawsuits often pressuring small businesses and property owners into quick settlements in order to avoid lengthy and costly court battles. In an analysis published in March by The News-Press (Fort Myers), of all the lawsuits filed under the ADA’s public accommodations law in Florida during the past five years, more than half of the approximately 6,000 suits were filed by just 12 plaintiffs. In addition, many of the plaintiffs are represented by the same law firms. The bill, receiving unanimous approval in both the Florida House and Senate during the 2017 legislative session, was recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott and is now in effect.

The new statute enables businesses and property owners to take substantive, preventative measures to help insulate themselves from the most frivolous claims. Under the law, a business or property owner may retain a qualified expert to conduct an inspection of their property to ensure compliance with building codes satisfying the ADA’s requirements. If the property is found to be in compliance with the ADA, the expert may issue a certificate of conformity that includes the date of inspection, proof of the expert’s qualifications, and a statement confirming that the property is in conformity. For properties that are not found to be in compliance, the owner may develop and submit a remediation plan approved by a qualified expert indicating that the property will be brought into conformity within a specified time period.

The compliance certifications or remediation plans may be filed with the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which will now maintain a publicly accessible website to serve as a registry for all of the certifications and remediation plans that it receives. Importantly, a remediation plan in existence before an ADA lawsuit is filed could serve to moot such a lawsuit.

The new law does not prohibit disabled plaintiffs from filing ADA public accommodations lawsuits, nor does it prohibit plaintiffs’ attorneys from seeking fees. It does, however, provide Florida businesses and property owners with a means to potentially defeat or limit frivolous ADA barrier-to-access lawsuits and greatly minimize their exposure to related attorney fees and costs.

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Filed under ADA, FL Legislation, Florida, Lawsuits

Helping You Navigate the Choppy Waters of Hurricane Claims

Our thoughts continue to be with all those affected by Hurricane Irma. We recognize many of you will face challenges in the days and weeks ahead. In staying true to our values of loyalty and teamwork, we want to let you know that ROIG Lawyers is here to help.

With the upcoming influx of property and insurance claims to be filed, top-of-mind awareness among claim handling professionals is key in identifying fraudulent and inflated hurricane claims.

We have a close-knit group of statewide First Party Property attorneys dedicated to providing quality and proactive legal services to our clients in the area of property defense. We utilize a proactive approach in which we litigate to property claims and moreover, if the need arises, we have experienced trial attorneys on our team ready to take files through trial.

We are also available to provide complimentary in-house CE courses to our clients and colleagues as a value-added service. We do this to ensure that our clients and prospective clients are making informed decisions based on the most up to date and relevant information. These are a few of the courses that may be of most interest to you and your team.

  • Public Adjusters and SIU, 2 credit hours
    This course will inform and update insurance adjusters on the role of a public adjuster when investigating a homeowner’s claim. The course will educate adjusters on the statutory authority for public adjusters as well as ethical requirements. Adjusters will be educated on common tactics and provided with examples of ways adjusters can assist with a fraudulent claim. Finally, adjusters will be educated on the potential pitfalls associated with alleging insurance fraud.
  • Water Mitigation Claims, 1 or 2 credit hours
    This course will provide a basic overview of the various requirements of water mitigation services pursuant to the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (“IICRC”). Specifically, the course addresses the types of machines used, the categories and classes of losses, and various SIU issues to be aware of when adjusting these types of losses.
  • Examinations Under Oath and the Law, 2 credit hours
    This course will inform insurance adjusters about examinations under oath and how and why they are used in practice. Additionally, the course indicates the information insurance adjusters should gather in anticipation of an Examination Under Oath.

If you have any questions, concerns, or to schedule a complimentary CE course, please contact the Marketing Department of ROIG Lawyers at marketing@roiglawyers.com.

ROIG Lawyers will continue to stand with you and as always, we thank you for standing by us.

ROIG Lawyers is a minority-owned litigation firm with a primary focus on Insurance Defense Litigation. We serve as primary counsel for numerous national and regional carriers and corporations related to all aspects of insurance litigation from seven offices throughout the state of Florida. ROIG Lawyers does not intend to create an attorney-client relationship by offering this information, and anyone’s review of the information shall not be deemed to create such a relationship. E-mail list/s from ROIG Lawyers are intended to provide information of general interest to the public and are not intended to offer legal advice about specific situations or problems.  You should consult a lawyer with regard to specific legal issues that require attention.

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Filed under Florida, Hurricane Irma, Insurance, Insurance Claims, Insurance Defense, Property Insurance

Insurance Agent Allegedly Sold Fraudulent Insurance Policy

According to the Palm Beach Post, Fred Thomas Jr., 39, is facing charges of fraud and embezzlement between $300 and $2,000 after he allegedly sold a Palm Beach County woman fraudulent/fake car insurance during a three-year period. Thomas was arrested by the Florida Highway Patrol on Interstate 95 for driving with a suspended license when the trooper found an active warrant for Thomas in the insurance fraud case.

Click here for the full article.

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Filed under auto insurance, Auto Insurance Fraud, Florida, Insurance, Insurance Fraud, Palm Beach County

Pilot Theodore R. Wright III Faces Decades in Prison for Insurance Fraud

As reported by Flying Magazine, rising social media star Theodore Robert Wright III who gained notoriety for chronicling his larger-than-life flying exploits in photos on Facebook and Instagram has been charged with intentionally crashing his plane into the Gulf of Mexico to collect insurance money. Wright is facing serious prison time after federal law enforcement officials charged the 32-year-old with multiple counts of insurance fraud.

Wright and three associates (Shane Gordon of Texas, Raymond Fosdick of South Carolina, and Edward Delima of Hawaii) are charged with being involved in the destruction of a 1971 Cessna Citation, a Lamborghini Gallardo and a luxury sailboat in Hawaii, all to collect insurance payouts.

That’s not where the alleged fraud ended, prosecutors say. In an indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Tyler, Texas, Wright and three associates are charged with multiple felonies. Besides the Baron, officials say Wright was involved in the destruction of a 1971 Cessna Citation, a Lamborghini Gallardo and a luxury sailboat in Hawaii, all to collect insurance payouts. Prosecutors allege the men would acquire vehicles, insure them, destroy the vehicles and then collect the insurance money, a conspiracy that lasted from March 2012 to March 2017, according to the indictment.

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Filed under Insurance, Insurance Claims, Insurance Fraud

Auto Insurance Market to Shrink by 2050 According to KPMG

According to updated research by KPMG, the auto insurance market will shrink by more than 70 percent by 2050 due to autonomous vehicle technology and a rise in on-demand transportation, shifting liability to manufacturers.

KPMG did an updated study called The Chaotic Middle: The Autonomous Vehicle and Disruption in Automobile Insurance that shows an increase in the demand for new types of insurance products with traditional auto insurance carriers facing the threat of obsolescence. Auto manufacturers have become the likely alternative to covering driving risk according to the study.

According to the consulting firm, three major forces are disrupting the current auto insurance marketplace:

  • Autonomous Technology – making cars increasingly safer
  • Auto Manufacturers (OEMs) – assuming more of the driving risk and associated liability
  • Mobility-On-Demand – quickly translating into the need for less personal auto coverage

KPMG believes that all of this means that auto insurance carriers need to act now. “Insurance companies will have to make important strategic and tactical changes sooner than anticipated to navigate through this turbulent transformation of the industry,” said Jerry Albright, principal in KPMG’s Actuarial and Insurance Risk practice.

Click here to read the full article.

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Filed under auto insurance, Autonomous Technology, Insurance

Florida Insurance Rates Rise Thanks to Windshield-Replacement Schemes

According to Insurance Business America, your auto insurance premiums are going up, all because of ongoing windshield-replacement schemes.  As reported by Ryan Smith of Insurance Business America, these windshield schemes involve drivers with cracked windshields signing over insurance benefits to windshield repair and replacement shops.  These shops, through an “assignment of benefits”, will then submit an inflated invoice for the work allegedly rendered.

The Tampa Bay area has become the hub of the fraud and abuse involving these schemes.  More often then not, the fraudulent schemes are no fault of the insureds.   Florida law states that a deductible cannot be applied to windshield replacement and repair services.  This allows these shops to advertise that the work being done is “free” to the insureds.  The result of these “free” services has led to over 1900 windshield-claim lawsuits in Florida in 2016 alone; increasing litigation costs and ultimately hitting everyone’s pocket.

Click here for full article.

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Filed under auto insurance, Auto Insurance Fraud, Florida, Florida Division of Insurance Fraud, Insurance, Insurance Defense, Insurance Fraud, Windshield, Windshield Damage Scam

ROIG Attorneys Publish Ridesharing Article in Daily Business Review

ROIG Lawyers Attorneys Cecile S. Mendizabal and Lissette M. Alvarez published the article, “Ridesharing Legislation May Trigger New Wave of Litigation” in the Daily Business Review.

ROIG Lawyers Summer Law Clerk Yasbel Perez also contributed to the article.

Subscription required for full article.

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Filed under auto insurance, Claims Handling, FL Legislation, Florida, Insurance, Insurance Claims, Insurance Defense, Personal Injury Protection, PIP, PIP/No Fault, Ridesharing, Transportation Network Companies

Florida Doctors With Multiple Malpractice Settlements Face Little Discipline

According to Health News Florida, there are 29 Florida doctors operating with clear medical licenses although they have at least six malpractice complaints against them that have resulted in insurance payments since 2000. These doctors are continuing to practice without discipline from the state system that oversees them, which means either insurers paid to settle the cases that had no merit or the state hasn’t always followed up.

Critics say Florida’s system is broken and it’s putting people’s lives at risk. Dr. Sidney Wolfe, founder of the Public Citizen Health Research Group, based in Washington D.C has studied medical discipline nationwide for decades and says Florida’s Board of Medicine must intervene.

Patients and their families can also file a complaint with the state’s regulatory agencies, although the odds are stacked against them. 6,713 complaints and reports were filed with the Department of Health from 2015-2016. Only about 15 percent or 1,018 of them were found “legally sufficient.” Of those, 762 were taken to a probable cause panel, and three-fourths were rejected. The 188 administrative complaints filed that year represent less than 3 percent of the number of complaints and reports that came in.

In some cases involving doctors with multiple claims, records show the Department of Health received early warnings, but took little or no action. One of those cases was that of Dr. Michael Rosin, a Sarasota dermatologist who was convicted in March 2006 of defrauding Medicare of more than $3 million in a scheme that dated back more than a decade. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison and ordered to pay millions of dollars in restitution. After his criminal conviction, the Department of Health revoked his license, according to state records. Federal records show that Rosin, now 66, is at Otisville Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, N.Y. He is scheduled for release in 2025.

Click here to read the full article.

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Filed under Department of Health, DOH, Florida, Florida Healthcare, Health care, Insurance, Malpractice

Discount Plan Organization (DPO): What is it and why should we know?

A “Discount Medical Plan Organization” was created in 2004 and is now simply called a “Discount Plan Organization (DPO).”

What is it and why should we know?

It is like a concierge medical agreement where a patient pays a fee, for example, $1,500/year to get quick access to a specific doctor.  Usually, the DPO is the only way to access specific practitioners.  It does little more than grant access, some prophylactic treatment, and the practitioners are usually the patients’ primary care physician.  You may see these organizations providing post-accident services.

Let’s make sure we are not also paying for the DPO in disguise through administrative CPT’s. Click here for the Bill Analysis.

Summary:

Discount Medical Plan Organizations (DMPOs) offer discount medical plans, in exchange for fees, dues, charges, or other consideration, which provide access for plan members to providers of medical services and the right to receive medical services from those providers at a discount. The Legislature established the regulatory scheme for DMPOs in 2004, which includes licensure, forms and rate filings and approval, disclosure requirements, and penalties.

CS/HB 577 renames a “Discount Medical Plan” and a “Discount Medical Plan Organization” as a “Discount Plan” and a “Discount Plan Organization” (DPO), and makes extensive conforming changes to part II of ch. 636, F.S., to reflect the new names. The bill clarifies the definition of a “Discount Plan” to exclude any plan that does not charge a fee to members. The bill removes all rate and form filing and approval requirements for DPOs. To increase flexibility in marketing and reduce administrative barriers for DPOs, the bill:

  • Defines “first page”, upon which certain disclosures must appear, to mean the first page of any marketing material that first includes information describing benefits;
  • Allows DPOs to delegate functions to marketers and binds DPOs to the actions of those marketers within the scope of the delegation; and
  • Allows marketers and DPOs to commingle certain information on forms, advertisements, marketing materials, or brochures.

To maintain consumer protections for members and potential members of Discount Plans, the bill:

  • Changes the disclosure requirements by requiring acknowledgement and acceptance of the disclosures before enrollment and creating visibility and follow up requirements for disclosures made by electronic means or telephone;
  • Establishes new cancellation and reimbursement requirements for DPOs to disallow any charges beyond the effective cancellation date;
  • Requires pro rata reimbursement of charges paid by a member for the months beyond the effective cancellation date; and
  • Requires pro rata reimbursement for members who cancel during an open enrollment period, upon return of his or her discount card.

The bill does not have a fiscal impact on state or local government.

The bill became law on June 14, 2017, and is now Chapter 2017-112, Laws of Florida.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this issue in greater detail, please feel free to contact Dennis LaRosa (dlarosa@roiglawyers.com/850-264-6389) or any ROIG Lawyers attorney of your choice.

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Filed under FL Legislation, Florida, Insurance, Insurance Defense

New Opinion Released Regarding Examinations Under Oath (EUOs)

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.

ROIG Lawyers is a minority-owned litigation firm with a primary focus on Insurance Defense Litigation. We serve as primary counsel for numerous national and regional carriers and corporations related to all aspects of insurance litigation from 7 offices throughout the state of Florida. ROIG Lawyers does not intend to create an attorney-client relationship by offering this information, and anyone’s review of the information shall not be deemed to create such a relationship. E-mail list/s from ROIG Lawyers are intended to provide information of general interest to the public and are not intended to offer legal advice about specific situations or problems. You should consult a lawyer with regard to specific legal issues that require attention.

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Filed under auto insurance, Case Law, Claims Handling, Examinations Under Oath (EUO), FL Legislation, Insurance, Insurance Claims, Insurance Defense, Personal Injury Protection, PIP, PIP/No Fault