Tag Archives: PIP insurers

Pending PIP Litigation on the East and West Coasts Could Impact States In Between

PropertyCasualty360 published a report about pending automobile personal-injury litigation in California and New York that could have a lasting impact if the decisions spread to other jurisdictions. Courts will determine allowable evidence for suits involving these insurance claims.

East Coast

In New York, insurers investigated radiologist Andrew Carothers, a suspected illegal straw owner after he filed 20,000 lawsuits against auto-insurance carriers. After insurers refused to pay Carothers, he flooded the state’s courts with more than 20,000 lawsuits seeking collection for unpaid “services.” The civil cases were consolidated, and the jury agreed Carothers was fraudulently engaged in the corporate practice of medicine. The Appellate Division affirmed, so Carothers went to the New York Court of Appeals, where the case awaits a decision.

A favorable decision can deter scams like Carothers’ in other states that forbid the corporate practice of medicine. Fraudsters who often quickly expand operations to line their pockets in other states could be deterred. A decision is expected in 2019.

West Coast

Dave Pebley was involved in a serious vehicle accident, sought medical care and filed suit. He had health coverage but decided not to submit his bills for payment. That is because, under California law, the jury would only hear about the amount paid by his health insurer as the measure of his medical expense while Pebley was billed at the top rate for medical services by refusing to use his health insurance.

The insurer cried foul, asserting that such actions mislead the jury, and are fraudulent because medical providers never expect to receive such high payments. They argued the plaintiff may present the higher medical bills but must provide expert testimony to prove the charges are fair and reasonable. Similarly, the defendant or their insurer may present counter-evidence as to what the health providers normally accept for payment of those services.

The California Second District Court of Appeal reasoned that juries should be allowed to ultimately decide the appropriate charge for the medical services. Parties are lining up to support an appeal of the case to the state Supreme Court. If Pebley succeeds in California, potentially winning the $3.6 million he seeks, the strategy of refusing to use health insurance can be expected to spread rapidly to other states.

Click here for full article.

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Filed under auto insurance, Auto Insurance Fraud, Fraud, Insurance, Insurance Claims, Insurance Defense, Insurance Fraud, PIP, PIP/No Fault, Uncategorized

Attorney Fee Multipliers in PIP and the Search for a Guiding Lodestar

In October 2017, the Supreme Court again addressed the issue of contingency fee multipliers to awards of attorneys’ fees. Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Plaintiff attorneys felt a tinge of delight and perhaps delayed buying their lottery tickets in hopes that this new decision will help them win an attorney fee multiplier if they prevail in a PIP suit. While HB 119 in 2012 eliminated multipliers from newer PIP lawsuits, there are still many older cases that are now being resolved which face the possibility of large awards of attorney fees going to Plaintiff attorneys. Additionally, there is no penalty for a Plaintiff attorney to attempt to pursue a multiplier, thus the key question is how to best defend against this potential windfall.

To understand the new decision in Joyce v. Federated Nat’l Ins. Co., 2017 Fla. LEXIS 2070 (Fla. 2017), it is beneficial to look back at the Florida Supreme Court’s interpretation of how and when to award a multiplier. The seminal decision regarding the applicability of multipliers is still the Quanstrom decision from 1990. Specifically, the requirements under Quanstrom necessary to find a fee multiplier are:

  1. Whether the relevant market requires a contingency fee multiplier to obtain competent counsel.
  2. Whether the attorney was able to mitigate the risk of non-payment in any way.
  3. Whether any of the factors set forth in Rowe are applicable, especially, the amount involved, the results obtained, and the type of fee arrangement between the attorney and his client. Id. at 834.

Joyce re-iterates that a market inquiry as to whether a multiplier was necessary to obtain competent counsel is the primary factor under the Quanstrom[1] requirements. This is important to PIP litigation since there are few, if any, potential PIP lawsuits that cannot find a warm and welcoming PIP attorney eager and willing to take the case.

Interestingly, the Florida Supreme Court in Joyce noted that the United States Supreme Court in 1992 revisited the issue of contingency fee multipliers in Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557 (1992), concluding that “enhancements for contingency [was] not permitted under the fee-shifting statutes at issue…[and] Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, reasoned that enhancement for contingency would likely duplicate in substantial part factors already subsumed in the lodestar.” Joyce. at 17, citing Dague at 567.

Under Joyce, the Florida Supreme Court separated itself from this federal precedent and continued to allow the use of multipliers under Florida law. The fear was that without the possibility of contingency multipliers some individuals with meritorious claims would fail to obtain competent counsel and the Florida Supreme Court noted “their usefulness in helping parties secure legal representation and their importance in ensuring access to Courts.” Id. at 17-18 citing Bell v. U.S.B. Acquisition Co., Inc., 734 So.2d 403, 411 (Fla. 1999). In other words, the Florida Supreme Court was concerned that Justice Scalia failed to consider that without a potential multiplier there is a danger of never obtaining competent counsel. Id. at 25. But with the thousands of PIP lawsuits being filed every year, can a Plaintiff truly make an argument that finding a PIP attorney is difficult?

Under Joyce, it appears that contingency fee multipliers are alive and well under Florida Law, and there are some circumstances where they are certainly warranted. Paradoxically, the best argument against the applicability of multipliers to the majority of PIP lawsuits comes from the Joyce opinion itself. The majority opinion which intentionally diverged from federal precedent on multipliers in order to preserve access to courts appears to have absolutely no concern about whether prohibiting multipliers in PIP lawsuits somehow prevents individuals from obtaining fair access to courts or diminishes one’s ability to obtain competent counsel. The dissent also argues that PIP litigation suffered no decrease in volume after HB 119 and that there was no negative impact on an insured’s ability to obtain counsel in PIP cases. Id. at 40-41. The dissent even cites the Plaintiff’s own expert testimony that there is no lack of attorneys willing and able to take PIP cases and “that same fee expert begrudgingly ‘hate[d]’ to admit that plaintiffs’ attorneys throughout the entire State of Florida are abundantly motivated to take PIP cases (even though PIP cases contain no possibility of a multiplier).” Id. at 42.

The majority opinion in Joyce actually agreed with the dissent that PIP litigation is different because of the number of attorneys willing to take PIP lawsuits. The majority opinion notes that PIP should not be compared to other types of first-party litigation since, “the fact that there are attorneys who specialize in PIP claims, which can be handled with relative ease in a volume practice, does not correlate with the availability of competent attorneys who are willing to litigate other types of insurance coverage cases, where generally more complex issues are raised.” Id. at 25. Clearly, the majority opinion is willing to differentiate PIP lawsuits from other types of first-party litigation due to the ease of obtaining a competent attorney.

Ultimately, none of the Quanstrom factors changed with the recent Joyce decision. However, the new opinion does provide an excellent analysis and justification as to how multipliers developed under Florida law and why the Supreme Court continues to think multipliers are necessary to ensure fair and equal access to the courts. It is important to keep in mind that Joyce does not mean a PIP lawsuit can never justify a multiplier. In fact, the Quanstrom decision is a PIP lawsuit[2]. Understanding the best way to contest aggressive attempts to collect fee multipliers and create an appropriate record at the trial court level remains important in PIP litigation.

[1] Standard Guaranty Insurance Co. v. Quanstrom,555 So.2d 828 (Fla. 1990)
[2] Other notable PIP lawsuits have been awarded multipliers after there was substantial and competent evidence to justify that a multiplier was necessary.  See  State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Palma, 555 So.2d 836 (Fla. 1990)

If you have any questions on this issue, please feel free to contact our Insurance Services Team at info@roiglawyers.com.

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 auto insurance, Florida, Insurance, Insurance Claims, Insurance Defense, Personal Injury Protection, PIP, PIP/No Fault, Uncategorized

Sunny South Florida, Out-of-State College Students and the question of Vehicle Insurance Coverage

Spring Break, a time where college students from all over the Country flock down to Florida, known by many as the “Spring Break Capital of the World”, looking to have some fun in the sun.

Florida has many Universities, Colleges and other institutions of higher learning that welcome students from other States to attend.

So the question is, does an out-of-state student who attends University or College in Florida for 2 or 4 years now become a resident of Florida because they have decided to live in Florida during this time? Is that out-of-state student now required to register and license their out-of-state vehicle in Florida and obtain the minimum Florida automobile insurance coverage on that vehicle which is $10,000.00 in Personal Injury Protection and $10,000.00 in Property Damage Liability?

Well yes and no.

If the out-of-state student is planning to domicile themselves in Florida then they are required to license their vehicle in Florida and obtain the minimum insurance in order to operate that vehicle on the roads and highways of the State.

However, if the student maintains their residence in another State while they are enrolled as a full-time student in an “institution of higher learning”, then they are exempt from licensing their vehicle and obtaining the minimum insurance on that vehicle during the duration of their enrollment, as long as they have complied with the licensing and insurance requirements of the State for which they are a resident. One less thing for parents to worry about when they watch their babies leave the nest for the first time.

However, what constitutes an “institution of higher learning”.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary® defines this term as “a college or university”. But what about a trade school, vocational school or cosmetology school? The Federal Government generally defines an ”institution of higher education” as a public or nonprofit educational institution who only admits students who have a high school diploma or have a recognized equivalent certificate such as a General Educational Diploma (GED); is accredited or has pre-accreditation status; awards a Bachelor’s Degree or a 2-years Associates Degree; or, any school that provides not less than a 1-year training program beyond High School, to prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.[1]

These are inquiries that an insurance company must properly investigate in an automobile accident claim involving a nonresident student in order to determine whether they would be exempt from maintaining the minimum Florida insurance on their vehicle while in Florida or if the insurer may be required to extend that student the minimum insurance under Florida law.

So would your insured qualify for the exemption as a nonresident student?

This article is not intended 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. The content provided is intended to provide information of general interest to the public and is not intended to offer legal advice about specific situations or problems. You should consult a lawyer with regard to specific law issues that requires attention.

For additional information, please contact Stephen Mellor of Roig Lawyers at 954-354-1541 or by email at smellor@roiglawyers.com. Stephen G. Mellor is a partner in the Deerfield Beach office of Roig Lawyers who primarily focuses on out-of-state policy claims for insurance carriers. 

[1] 20 U.S. Code § 1001

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Filed under auto insurance, Claims Handling, Florida, Insurance, Insurance Claims, Insurance Defense, Personal Injury Protection, PIP, PIP/No Fault

Will You Have Coverage When You Cross The Line?

Is an automobile insurance company required to extend Florida Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits to an insured who resides in another state?

Well yes and no.

An automobile insurer who sells automobile insurance policies in Florida and the nonresident insured’s state is required to extend the minimum Florida Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits of $10,000.00 to the insured if they are involved in a motor vehicle accident in Florida, but only if they qualify under Florida law.

To qualify, the nonresident insured’s vehicle must have been physically located in Florida for 90 nonconsecutive days out of the previous 365 days from the date of the accident. By nonconsecutive days, it means that the insured vehicle could leave Florida and re-enter and still qualify for Florida PIP benefits if the vehicle has been in Florida for longer than 90 days throughout that preceding year.

An insurer is not required to extend the $10,000.00 in Florida PIP benefits to a nonresident insured whose vehicle is not in Florida for longer than 90 nonconsecutive days out of the previous 365 days from the date of the accident.

Most if not all automobile insurance policies have an “Out-of-State Coverage” provision which will detail that insurer’s obligation to comply with a State’s minimum insurance requirements if their nonresident insured becomes subject to the insurance laws of that State. However, some insurance contracts make it the responsibility of the nonresident insured and not the insurer to purchase the required minimum Florida PIP coverage if they plan to stay in Florida for longer than 90-days.

An insurer is not required to extend additional Florida PIP benefits to a nonresident insured that enters Florida and whose insurance policy meets the States minimum PIP or No-Fault requirements.

For Example:

The New York Automobile No-Fault Law requires each insured to carry a minimum of $50,000.00 in No-Fault/ PIP benefits. Thus, if a New York resident drives their vehicle into Florida and is involved in a motor vehicle accident, then they will receive the $50,000.00 in New York PIP benefits as this is greater coverage than the minimum $10,000.00 in PIP benefits which is required under Florida law.

This article is not intended 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. The content provided is intended to provide information of general interest to the public and is not intended to offer legal advice about specific situations or problems. You should consult a lawyer with regard to specific law issues that requires attention.

For additional information please contact Stephen Mellor of Roig Lawyers at 954-354-1541 or by email at smellor@roiglawyers.com.

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Filed under Auto Insurance Fraud, Florida, Insurance, Insurance Claims, Personal Injury Protection, PIP/No Fault

The 11th Judicial Circuit Court Issues Key Ruling in Health Care Clinic Licensure Case

On March 10, 2015, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County issued a ruling in favor of Imperial Fire & Casualty Insurance in a mandatory licensing (House Bill 119) case. The Court found that the charges submitted for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits to Imperial Fire & Casualty, to be unlawful and thus, noncompensable pursuant to Florida’s Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law.

Imperial Fire & Casualty issued a policy of automobile insurance to the Insured under which the Defendant, Magic Hands Solutions Inc. sought payment. Magic Hands Solutions operated as a medical clinic and allegedly rendered medical treatment to the Insured who was injured in an automobile accident. Subsequently, Magic Hands Solutions submitted charges for payment of PIP benefits to Imperial Fire & Casualty. Magic Hands Solutions was advised that the claim submitted for PIP benefits was not payable because the clinic was not properly licensed pursuant to Section 627.736, Florida Statutes (2013).

In 2012, the Legislature required mandatory licensing for all clinics holding an exempt status, whether by issuance of Certificate of Exemption or self-determined, in order for clinics to receive reimbursement pursuant to the “PIP Statute.” Hence, a clinic must be licensed under Part X, Chapter 400 to receive reimbursement for PIP benefits, unless it qualifies for an exception listed in Section 627.736(5)(h).

The Court found that the Magic Hands Solutions being wholly owned by a license massage therapist does not qualify for any of the exceptions delineated in §627.736(5)(h)(1)-(6) and was required to obtain a Health Care Clinic license as a condition precedent to receiving reimbursement of PIP benefits.

As a result of Magic Hands Solutions’ failure to obtain a Health Care Clinic License, the Court found that the charges submitted were unlawful and thus, noncompensable pursuant to Florida’s Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law and that Imperial Fire & Casualty.

Imperial Fire & Casualty Insurance Company vs. Magic Hands Solution Inc., Case No. 2014-2211 CC 24 (01) (Fla. 11th Circuit March 10, 2015).

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008)

Two Favorable PIP Rulings for Mercury Insurance

Medicare Part B and other statutory fee schedules were permitted as a basis for reimbursement in the recent case Timothy M. Kehrig, DC, P.A. v. Mercury Insurance Company of Florida, heard by a Palm Beach County court.

The plaintiff filed suit charging that Mercury did not pay 80% of the amount billed for medical services. Rather, the defendant determined payment by calculating 80% of 200% of the charges allowed in the Medicare Part B fee schedule.

The question in dispute was whether Mercury could pay benefits in accordance with the fee contained in Fla. Stat. §627.736(5)(a)(2) (2008) and the policy.

The court ruled that Mercury could limit payment in accordance with statutory fee schedules.

Separately, a Pinellas County court recently permitted Mercury to limit payment by using statutory fee schedules in the PIP dispute Orthopedic Specialists v. Mercury Insurance Company of Florida.

The case related to a 2011 injury in which Mercury reimbursed the medical services provider at a rate of 80% of 200% of the benefits available under Medicare Part B.

“Medical benefits” were defined in the policy as meaning “eighty (80%) percent of all reasonable expenses allowed by the No-Fault Law, subject to the applicable fee schedules and payment limitations, for medically necessary …”

The court cited Geico General Ins. Co. v. Virtual Imaging Services, Inc., stating that the description of medical benefits payment “is not inconsistent with application of the fee schedules and limitations.”

Case Documents

Click on the link to read the Final Judgment for Defendant in the matter Timothy M. Kehrig, DC, P.A. v. Mercury Insurance Company of Florida, (Case No. 50-2011-SC-008363).

Click on the link to read the Final Summary Judgment in the matter Orthopedic Specialists v. Mercury Insurance Company of Florida, (Case No. 13-000073-SC).

Both cases involved a “U85 (05/2010)” endorsement to the policy.

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

Motion for Summary Judgment Granted in Two Pinellas PIP Cases

The Pinellas County Court ruled in favor of Direct General Insurance in two recent PIP cases heard in the Small Claims Division.

In both cases, the plaintiff alleged breach of contract for failure to pay 80% of reasonable and necessary medical expenses. Direct General responded with a Motion for Summary Judgment, claiming that it paid the medical expenses in accordance with the policy language.

The policy in question stipulated that the insurer will pay 80% of qualifying expenses. The court noted the presence of additional policy language that clearly stated the potential for further reductions in reimbursement, as follows:

“… in determining whether charges for medical expenses under this Part are reasonable, we may reduce payments for amounts that are billed to any lesser amount that results from the application of any schedule of charges or alternative reimbursement method that is expressly reference or authorized for use by the insurers under the No Fault Law.”

The court determined that Fla. Statute §627.736(5)(a)2 is the governing clause, even if it may not have been specifically referenced. The court cited Kingsway Amigo Ins. Co. v. Ocean Health, Inc., 63 So. 3d 63, 68 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011) in its decision.

The cases are Wood Health, Inc. vs. Direct General Insurance (Ref. 12-4904SC-SPC), and Spinal Corrections Centers vs. Direct General Insurance (Ref. 12-49088SC-SPC). Click on the case titles to view the court documents.

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Filed under Case Law, Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008), Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2012)

Insurance Information Institute Comments on PIP Premium Changes and Significance of the January 1, 2013 Effective Date of 2012 PIP Law Changes

Tampa Bay Fox 13 recently featured a segment regarding the effect of House Bill 119, the 2012 PIP law change, on PIP premium rates.  Lynne McChristian of the Insurance Information Institute, shed some light what appears to be a lack of a premium decrease.  McChristian indicates that the recent insurer reports are not indicative of what could likely be the case after January 1, 2013, when all of HB119’s changes take effect.

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2012), Insurance Fraud, Licensing, The Statutory "Fee Schedules"