Tag Archives: Florida 3D DCA

Palm Beach Post Receives National Recognition for Insurance Fraud Coverage

Washington-based policy and research group, Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, has awarded its inaugural journalism award for fraud reporting to The Palm Beach Post for its work on fraud in the sober-home industry. The award honored Post coverage dating back to 2015 when Post investigators Christine Stapleton and Pat Beall first wrote about how sober-home operators were defrauding insurers of millions of dollars for urine drug tests.

Sober homes were requiring residents to be tested every day, creating multimillion-dollar business empires. Palm Beach County treatment centers and affiliated labs were charging as much as $2,000 for urine tests that can be purchased for $25 at a drug store.

In 2016, a team of Post reporters and editors, including Stapleton, Beall, Lawrence Mower, Joe Capozzi, John Pacenti, Barbara Marshall and Mike Stuck produced “Heroin: Killer of a Generation,” a 12-page special section of stories about 216 men, women and teenagers who died of a heroin-related overdoses in Palm Beach County in 2015. One in 10 had died in a sober home.

The Post’s reporting played a role in the prosecution of sober-home operators Kenneth Chatman and Eric Snyder as well as the successful push to tighten state laws which have resulted in more than 40 people on charges related to brokering patients.

Congratulations to the Palm Beach Post on this national recognition for their work in fighting insurance fraud.

Click here for full article.

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Filed under Florida, Insurance, Insurance Fraud, Palm Beach County

Third DCA Rules for Insurer in GEICO v. Gables Insurance Recovery

In an opinion issued December 10, 2014 in the case of GEICO v. Gables Insurance Recovery (a/a/o Rita M. Lauzan), the Third District Court of Appeal quashed a Circuit Court Appellate Division’s decision affirming final judgment in favor of Gables Insurance.

Lauzan, who was insured by GEICO, was injured in an automobile accident in 2008. After obtaining medical treatment, she assigned her GEICO policy benefits to All X-Ray Diagnostic Services, which subsequently assigned the benefits to Gables Insurance.

GEICO paid less than the amount it had been billed, and Gables Insurance filed a breach of contract action against GEICO. GEICO argued that Lauzan’s $10,000 PIP benefits had been exhausted and that it therefore had no further liability to Gables.

Deciding in GEICO’s favor, the Third District Court of Appeal held that the PIP statute does not require an insurer to pay more than the $10,000 limit in PIP coverage. Further, it does not require an insurer to “set aside” funds in anticipation of litigation. The Court noted that two other District Courts of Appeal have addressed the issue, holding that a showing of bad faith or impropriety on the part of the insurer is required before it can be held liable for benefits above the statutory limit.

Quoting a recent Fourth District Court of Appeal case, Northwoods v. State Farm, the Court concluded that once PIP benefits are exhausted, “an insurer has no further liability on unresolved, pending claims, absent bad faith in the handling of the claim by the insurance company.”

The case is GEICO Indemnity Co. v. Gables Insurance Recovery (a/a/o Rita M. Lauzan), Case No. 3D13-2264 (Fla. 3rd DCA, December 10, 2014). Click on the link to read the court opinion.

The case cited is Northwoods Sports Medicine v. State Farm, 137 So. 3d 1049 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014).

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Filed under Case Law, Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008)

Third DCA Upholds Ruling in PIP Case Millennium Radiology v. State Farm

On December 10, 2014, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court ruling in Millennium Radiology (a/a/o Yesenia Arango) v. State Farm. In the case, Yesenia Arango’s $10,000 PIP policy limits were exhausted after a lawsuit was filed and served on State Farm by Millennium Radiology.

Roig Lawyers attorney Mark Rose had successfully argued in the lower court that paying out the entire $10,000 was a complete bar to additional claims against the policy of insurance, absent bad faith on the insurer’s part or the insurer’s payment of untimely submitted bills. Following the ruling, the case was certified as a question of great public importance to the Third District Court of Appeal.

The Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the ruling, finding that in an action brought by an assignor of PIP benefits that is founded upon a breach of contract, exhaustion of PIP benefits after a lawsuit is filed “absolves the insurer from any responsibility to pay an otherwise valid claim” where the exhaustion occurred (1) after the insurer paid an amount less than the provider feels was appropriate; (2) after a lawsuit has been served on the insurer; and (3) absent any bad faith by the insurer in the handling of the claims.

The case is Millennium Radiology v. State Farm, Case No. 3D12-3143 (Fla. 3rd DCA, December 10, 2014). Click on the link to view the court ruling.

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Filed under Case Law, Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008)

3rd DCA Denies Millennium Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Legal Title Dispute

State Farm issued a policy to Hery Alvarez, whose mother, Josefa Alvarez, was in an accident while a passenger in her son’s car. Hery Alvarez and Josefa Alvarez lived in the same household, and Josefa Alvarez sought treatment at Millennium Diagnostic under her son’s PIP policy. She assigned her benefits to Millennium. She did not have vehicle insurance or her own PIP policy.

State Farm denied payment to Millennium. State Farm argued that the mother was the registered owner of a Ford Expedition and therefore should have had PIP through her own policy. She did not have insurance coverage on the Expedition, which was operable. She had leased the vehicle for her daughter, who had bad credit.

In the trial court, Millennium argued that Josefa Alvarez’s daughter, Ana Alvarez, was actually the beneficial owner of the Expedition. The trial court agreed and entered Summary Judgment, finding that the daughter was the beneficial owner of the Expedition. State Farm appealed the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Florida §627.733, requires that every owner or registrant of a motor vehicle in FL is required to maintain motor vehicle insurance securing PIP benefits. An owner is a person who holds legal title to a motor vehicle. An owner of a registered, operable motor vehicle who fails to have PIP security in effect at the time of an accident shall have no immunity from tort liability, but shall be personally liable. Thus, if Josefa Alvarez is not the legal owner of the vehicle—beneficial ownership having passed to her daughter—she would not be required to have PIP coverage on the Expedition and could seek treatment under her son’s policy.

The trial court found that Ana Alvarez was the beneficial owner of the vehicle. Relying on State Farm v. Hartzog, 917 So. 2d 363, 364-65 (Fla. 1st DCA 2005), the court concluded that the name on the title is not the “litmus test” for determining ownership for insurance purposes. In Hartzog, Barbara Hartzog agreed to purchase a vehicle from Donnie Welch. Welch kept title in his name and maintained the insurance policy on the vehicle. When Hartzog was involved in an accident shortly after the purchase agreement was entered into, the 1st District Appellate Court concluded that Hartzog was the beneficial owner because Welch no longer owned the vehicle, pursuant to the purchase agreement, and Hartzog continued to make payments to Welch. The “overt acts” of Hartzog—having exclusive possession and control of the vehicle—were said to be key factors in determining beneficial ownership of a vehicle.

The appellate court in this case distinguished Hartzog. Here, no purchase agreement existed between Josefa Alvarez and her daughter, Ana Alvarez. In fact, there could not be because the lessor, not Josefa Alvarez, owned the Expedition, and Josefa did not have the right to transfer the title. Additionally, the court found that Josefa’s subjective intent to gift the vehicle to her daughter was insufficient to contradict her legal interest in the vehicle.

Thus concluding that Ana did not have beneficial ownership of the vehicle and that Josefa held legal title, the Appellate Court ordered that summary judgment be reversed, and the case remanded to the trial court. On December 5, 2013, the 3rd DCA denied a petition for writ of certiorari by Millennium.

Millennium Diagnostic v. State Farm, No. 3D13-0423 (3rd DCA 2013).
State Farm v. Millennium Diagnostic, No. 11-102 (Fla. 11th Cir. Ct. App. Div.).

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Filed under Case Law, Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2012)

Florida Supreme Court to Decide Fee Schedule Issue

Yesterday the 3rd District Court of Appeal rendered its decision Geico v. Virtual Imaging (a/a/o Maria Tirado). While the Court ruled it was bound by its prior decision denying the use of the Fee Schedule as found in Florida Statute 627.736, the Court also certified the fee schedule to the Florida Supreme Court. In certifying the question as a matter of great public importance the court found that

The Legislature’s amendment to the PIP statute sought to address the enormous costs and inefficiencies of the law prior to amendment. Litigation and fee-shifting to determine “reasonable” costs of standardized medical procedures should be passé by now. An MRI, for example, is now a common procedure. The medical cost accounting and national metrics supporting the Medicare Part B reimbursement figures for MRIs and other standard medical services are widely used and understood. An alternative charge based essentially on whatever the market will bear, on the other hand, invites litigation. A prevailing provider or insured may also recover attorney’s fees and costs, and resolution of these disputes also requires judicial resources at the expense of all State taxpayers. All of these circumstances are contrary to the original, no-fault objectives of the PIP statute.

Finally, a court that understands the legislature’s intent. The certified question reads as follows

WITH RESPECT TO PIP POLICIES ISSUED AFTER JANUARY 1, 2008, MAY THE INSURER COMPUTE PROVIDER REIMBURSEMENTS BASED ON THE FEE SCHEDULES IDENTIFIED IN SECTION 627.736(5)(a), FLORIDA STATUTES, EVEN IF THE POLICY DOES NOT CONTAIN A PROVISION SPECIFICALLY ELECTING THOSE SCHEDULES RATHER THAN “REASONABLE MEDICAL EXPENSES” COVERAGE BASED ON SECTION 627.736(1)(a)?

To read the entire opinion click here.

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008), The Statutory "Fee Schedules"