Author Archives: Stephen Mellor

Couple Denied Coverage After Water Heater Leak Under Policy’s Earth Movement Exclusion

Barbara and Charles Hatch had a water heater leak about 4,000 gallons of water flooding their home. Their insurance company, GeoVera Specialty Insurance Co., inspected the claim and issued payment to mitigate the damage. However, after then work had begun the Hatch’s discovered damage to the foundation and structure of the home.

Upon further inspection, GeoVera denied coverage based on the Hatch’s policy that excludes under the earth movement, which caused the foundation and structural damage. The district court ruled the structural damage to the Hatches’ home was excluded as the company claimed and GeoVera was entitled to summary judgment on that portion of the Hatches’ claim. In its decision, the district court explained that, under the policy, any damage caused by the accidental discharge of water from the water heater, including the structural damage to the Hatches’ home, was covered “unless otherwise excluded.”

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Filed under Coverage

It’s baaaack! Hurricane Season Starts Tomorrow and the Forecast Is In

The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season officially went in the books as being tumultuous or “above normal” to say the least.  However, 2019 doesn’t seem to trail too far behind. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, nine to 15 named storms are forecast during the six-month season that starts June 1, of those, 4 to 8 will become hurricanes and 2 to 4 will be major systems with winds of 111 miles (179 kilometers) per hour or more. This year is the fifth time in a row that a system has spun up in the Atlantic before the official June 1 start to the season.

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How Billing Processes of Florida Medical Providers for PIP Claims are Affected by the Thirty Third Amendment to Regulation 83 Under New York-Based Insurance Policies

The New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS’) has finalized the Thirty-Third Amendment to Regulation 83 (the “33rd Amendment”), which was published in the State Register on October 25, 2017 and will affect treatment rendered on or after January 23, 2018. Pursuant to the accompanying press release, the 33rd Amendment is designed to “limit the amount that insurers can reimburse for healthcare services performed outside of New York State under its no-fault insurance law.”[1] By limiting reimbursement amounts for out-of-state no-fault healthcare services, which are treating New York State (“NYS”) residents, the DFS intends to “curb costs and abuses” by out-of-state medical providers charging excessive rates.[2].

Regulation 83, governing the reimbursement of out-of-state providers, previously provided that:

“If a professional health service is performed outside New York State, the permissible charge for such service shall be the prevailing fee in the geographic location of the provider.” (11 NYCRR § 68.6).

The case of Surgicare Surgical Assoc. v National Interstate Ins. Co., 2014 WL 6610048, 2014 N.Y. Slip Op. 24362) (Anthony Cannataro, J.), provides a good example of an out-of-state provider seeking reimbursement at an exorbitant rate, diminishing the coverage available to the insured for other medically necessary services. There, the provider performed arthroscopic surgery on a covered person in New Jersey and submitted a claim for reimbursement under the applicable New York No-fault policy. Although the state of New Jersey has a fee schedule that applies to the reimbursement of medical services under the New Jersey’s No-fault law, the provider submitted a bill to the insurer for approximately $5,000 more than the amount it would have been reimbursed had the claim involved a New Jersey auto policy and as a result, was governed by the New Jersey fee schedule. The insurer reimbursed the amount permitted under the New Jersey fee schedule, essentially maintaining that, pursuant to Regulation 83, the New Jersey fee scheduled reflected the permissible amount in the geographic area. The provider sued for the difference. After discussing the applicable regulations and policy considerations behind the enactment of the New York No-fault law, including the legislative intent of cost containment, a New York City Civil Court judge held that, “when services are rendered outside of New York but in a jurisdiction which utilizes a fee schedule, the insurer complies with Section 68.6 by paying the ‘permissible’ charge for that particular medical service, that is, the amount permitted by that jurisdiction’s fee schedule.” The provider appealed and the Appellate Term affirmed. See Surgicare Surgical Assoc. v National Interstate Ins. Co., 2015 NY Slip Op 25338 (App. Term 1st Dept. 2015).

In other instances, the amount sought by out-of-state providers has been tens of thousands of dollars above the amount that would be permitted under the New York Fee Schedule. Recognizing the potential for fraud and abuse, the Amendment provides an effective solution to the exploitation of the No-fault system by out-of-state providers and, adopts, to some extent, the holding in Surgicare and, by regulation, strengthens the limits placed on reimbursement of such providers. Specifically, the Amendment states:

11 NYCRR 68.6: Health services performed outside New York State

(a)(1) If a professional health service reimbursable under [section 5102(a)(1) of the] Insurance Law section 5102(a)(1) is performed outside this State, the amount that the insurer shall reimburse for the service shall be the lower of the amount charged by the provider and the prevailing fee in the geographic location of the provider with respect to services:

(i) that constitute emergency care;

(ii) provided to an eligible injured person that is not a resident of this State; or

(iii) provided to an eligible injured person that is a resident of this State who, at the time of treatment, is residing in the jurisdiction where the treatment is being rendered for reasons unrelated to the treatment.

(2) For purposes of this subdivision, emergency care means all medically necessary treatment initiated within 48 hours of a motor vehicle accident for a traumatic injury or a medical condition resulting from the accident, which injury or condition manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that absence of immediate attention could reasonably be expected to result in: death; serious impairment to bodily functions; or serious dysfunction of a bodily organ or part.  Medically necessary treatment shall include immediate pre-hospitalization care, transportation to a hospital or trauma center, emergency room care, surgery, critical and acute care.  Emergency care extends during the period of initial hospitalization until the patient is discharged from the hospital.

(b) Except as provided in subdivision (a) of this section, if a professional health service reimbursable under Insurance Law section 5102(a)(1) is performed outside this State with respect to an eligible injured person that is a resident of this State, the amount that the insurer shall reimburse for the service shall be the lowest of:

(1) the amount of the fee set forth in the region of this State that has the highest applicable amount in the fee schedule for that service;

(2) the amount charged by the provider; and

(3) the prevailing fee in the geographic location of the provider.

(c) If the jurisdiction in which the treatment is being rendered has established a fee schedule for reimbursing health services rendered in connection with claims for motor vehicle-related injuries and the fee schedule applies to the service being provided, the prevailing fee amount specified in subdivisions (a) and (b) of this section shall be the amount prescribed in that jurisdiction’s fee schedule for the respective service.

The 33rd Amendment separates treatment by out-of-state medical providers into the following two categories:

  1. Out-of-state medical services, which (a) constitute emergency care[3], (b) are provided to non-NYS residents, and (c) are provided to patients with a NYS domicile, who are currently living in the state where the treatment is being rendered, for reasons unrelated to the accident.
  2. Out-of-state medical services provided to a NYS resident, currently living in NYS.

There is one main difference between the two categories – which State’s no-fault fee schedule governs and must be utilized by the insurer when reimbursing the medical provider. Simply put, if the medical services fall into Category 1, the medical provider’s reimbursement will be capped at the No-Fault Schedule rate for the State and region wherein the services are provided. By contrast, if the medical services fall into Category 2, the medical provider’s reimbursement will be capped at the highest rate available under the New York State No-Fault Fee Schedule unless the State where the treatment is being rendered has an established fee schedule for claims related to motor vehicle-related injuries.

As such, section (c) of 11 NYCRR 68.6 would apply to medical services rendered in Florida as there is an established set of fee schedules within the Florida No-Fault Law. While the foregoing may be the general rule, there are nuances requiring attention.

The reimbursement rate for medical services is now capped at the prevailing fee in the geographical location of the provider unless the provider charges less. Thus, the 33rd Amendment now limits the prevailing geographical rate to that area’s local No-Fault Fee Schedule Rate. In other words, if x-ray services are performed in Miami, Florida the provider’s reimbursement is limited to the schedule of maximum charges as listed in the Florida No-Fault law for that geographical region (Miami) (i.e, 200% of Medicare Part B).

The medical providers and insurers also need to be familiar with the amendment’s definition of what constitutes “emergency care”’ and how it relates to reimbursement.

Example 1: If a person is transported to the Hospital as a result of a motor vehicle accident in Florida and that person lives in Florida but is covered by a New York policy, then that Hospital provider’s charges would be limited to 75% of the usual and customary charge pursuant to the Florida No-Fault Law’s schedule of maximum charges. Moreover, the emergency services doctor would be paid at its usual and customary charge which is generally the submitted charge.

Example 2: Compare to the facts that this same individual is involved in a motor vehicle accident in Florida on January 1, 2019 and is not transported to the Hospital. However, three days later they decide to go to the emergency room due to having neck and back pain related to the accident. Would these Hospital and physician services now be considered “emergency care”?  Under this amendment, it would not because the treatment was not initiated within 48 hours following the accident.

Now further compare these facts with the applicable schedule of maximum charges under Florida Statute §627.736(5) (2018) which states in pertinent part:

The insurer may limit reimbursement to 80 percent of the following schedule of maximum charges:

a. For emergency transport and treatment by providers licensed under chapter 401, 200 percent of Medicare.

b. For emergency services and care provided by a hospital licensed under chapter 395, 75 percent of the hospital’s usual and customary charges.

c. For emergency services and care as defined by s. 395.002 provided in a facility licensed under chapter 395 rendered by a physician or dentist, and related hospital inpatient services rendered by a physician or dentist, the usual and customary charges in the community.

d. For hospital inpatient services, other than emergency services and care, 200 percent of the Medicare Part A prospective payment applicable to the specific hospital providing the inpatient services.

e. For hospital outpatient services, other than emergency services and care, 200 percent of the Medicare Part A Ambulatory Payment Classification for the specific hospital providing the outpatient services.

In the situation listed in Example 2, the patient’s condition would not be considered “emergency care” and thus, payment would be made at 200 percent of the Medicare Part A prospective payment applicable to the specific hospital providing the inpatient services or 200 percent of the Medicare Part A Ambulatory Payment Classification for the specific hospital providing the outpatient services.

Conclusion

In order to maximize recovery without running afoul of the new fee schedule mandates of the 33rd Amendment, Florida medical providers treating patients covered by New York No-Fault policies must be cognizant of whether the service rendered meets the definition of “emergency care.” What this amendment does clarify is that if medical services are rendered in Florida under a PIP claim brought under a New York policy, then the maximum amount to be paid to the medical providers for these services would be limited to Florida’s schedule of maximum charges.

[1] Press Release, posted October 10, 2017, http://www.dfs.ny.gov/about/press/pr1710101.htm

[2] Id.

[3] Under the 33rd Amendment, in order to constitute emergency care, the treatment must be initiated within 48 hours of the motor vehicle accident.

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 require 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. 

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Filed under Personal Injury Protection, PIP, Uncategorized

NICB Predicts Insurance Fraud will Rise with Frequency of Weather-Related Events

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) predicts a rise in fraudulent claims as weather-related events increase in frequency and size. A study done by the NICB revealed that approximately 10% of insurance claims are fraudulent. Another study fielded by the Pennsylvania Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority (PIFPA) Pennsylvania residents have limited knowledge of what is classified as insurance fraud and even fewer know that it is considered a felony. Insurance fraud, as well as workers’ comp fraud, are not a victimless crime. In fact, it increases policy costs for everyone which is why the industry must proactively combat insurance fraud to prevent further damage.

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Vero Beach Acupuncturist Charged with Insurance Fraud and Racketeering

Jill Jaynes of Absolute Integrated Medicine in Vero Beach has been arrested and charged with insurance fraud totaling nearly $1.5 million, racketeering and more. If Jaynes is convicted, she could face up to 135 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

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Filed under Healthcare Fraud, Insurance, Insurance Fraud

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.

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

Appeal Court Backed Air Ambulance Firm in PIP Dispute

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed air-ambulance firm Air Methods Corp. in a dispute stemming from a traffic accident that resulted in the death of accident victim Lemar Bailey about whether the amount paid for helicopter services should be limited by Florida’s no-fault auto insurance law. The federal appeals court ruled that the air-ambulance firm is considered an air carrier under federal law and should be able to bill the child’s father, Lenworth Bailey, for costs that exceeded the limits in the state’s no-fault system.

Following the March 2013 accident, Air Methods Corp. billed $27,975 for its services. Bailey’s auto insurer, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., paid $6,911 under the fee schedule. His health insurer, Aetna Life Insurance Co. paid another $3,681. However, Bailey did not pay the remaining balance of nearly $17,400. He filed a potential class-action lawsuit alleging that the air ambulance company was trying to improperly collect amounts in excess of the fee schedule. However, the judge ruled in favor of the Air Method, which led Bailey to the appeals court that also rejected such arguments.

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

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit of Injured NJ Driver Who Maintained FL Insurance Policy

A New Jersey judge has ruled that Jeffrey Scholes, a man living in New Jersey but driving a car registered and insured in Florida, may not sue another New Jersey driver for injuries he sustained in a car accident. Judge Patrick Bartels of Essex County Superior Court dismissed Scholes’ personal injury lawsuit against defendant Stephen Hausmann on Oct. 24 citing that it would be a violation of the state’s automobile insurance statutes as Scholes fraudulently maintained a Florida automobile insurance policy while living in New Jersey.

Bartels noted that Scholes had been living and working in New Jersey since 2009 but maintained a Florida insurance policy issued by GEICO, registered his car there and had a Florida driver’s license because it was more cost-effective.

According to the ruling, Scholes was “severely injured” when he was struck head-on by Haumann’s car on Oct. 23, 2014, in South Orange. Although Scholes sustained back injuries that required epidural injections and surgery, Hausmann moved to have Scholes’ lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that New Jersey law requires that people who live in the state and who have a car here must maintain New Jersey car insurance.

Bartels agreed. “[W]e agree that plaintiff’s automobile is not considered insured pursuant to New Jersey law,” he said.

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Filed under auto insurance, Auto Insurance Fraud, Florida, Insurance, Insurance Fraud, New Jersey, PIP

Relocation For Military Personnel Might Be An Order, But What About Vehicle Registration and Insurance?

During holidays such as Memorial Day and Independence Day, our nation pays tribute to all of our men and women, both past and present, serving in the Armed Forces. We look forward to celebrating with family and friends as we honor our military personnel and their service to this Country.

One of the things military personnel are likely to endure is moving their homes and bouncing around the Country or overseas to do their duty. These individuals often own motor vehicles and drive them across state lines to where they are newly stationed. Others are overseas for months, if not years, and have motor vehicles back at home that are not being used and are often garaged until their owners return.

So is a member of the military who is a Florida resident responsible for maintaining the registration and minimal automobile insurance on their vehicle when they are stationed out of the Country?

The answer to that is no, but be careful. Florida law makes an owner or registrant of a motor vehicle exempt from such registration and insurance requirements if a member of the United State Armed Forces is called to or on active duty outside the United States in an emergency situation. The exemption applies only as long as the member of the Armed Forces is on active duty outside the United States and applies only while the vehicle covered by the security required under Florida law is not operated by any person. However, the military insured must make a written request for this exemption and the insurer shall cancel the coverages and return any unearned premium or suspend the security required.

What does this mean? Well, the subject motor vehicle cannot be driven on the roads and highways of Florida during the time this exemption is in place. As such, if that military insured has leave and comes back to Florida, then they cannot operate that vehicle unless they renew the minimum insurance and their registration, if expired. Additionally, other individuals cannot drive that vehicle when that military insured is deployed. This can get tricky due to the fact that the worst thing that can happen to a motor vehicle is letting it sit idle for a long period of time. This can cause condensation in the fuel, carburetor issues, flat tires and other mechanical problems.

To be safe, advise everyone you know that may have access to the vehicle that it cannot be operated on the streets or highways of Florida until it is re-registered and insured. Putting a lock on the vehicle’s steering wheel or a note in the window as a reminder may also be a good practice. This does not mean you cannot start the vehicle and let it idle, it just means you cannot take it out for a drive. If you do, the driver/owner of the vehicle would become self-insured and could possibly be cited for failure to have the required insurance on the vehicle. Sorry neighbors, no favors to borrow the car for a quick trip to the market… That run for milk can leave the vehicle owner in a stale situation.

Now Florida residents are generally required every year to renew the registration on their vehicles.

However, is a member of the Armed Forces, who is a resident of another State and is ordered to be stationed in Florida, required to register their personal vehicle in Florida and maintain the minimum Florida insurance on that vehicle if they want to drive that vehicle on the roads and highways of Florida?

The answer is no. Any motor vehicle or mobile home owned by, and operated exclusively for the personal use of, any member of the United States Armed Forces who is not a resident of Florida and who is stationed in Florida while in compliance with military or naval orders, are exempt from registering and insuring their personal vehicle in Florida during that time as long as it is registered and insured in accordance with the laws of their home State.

Now the military insured may want to renew their registration and obtain the minimum Florida insurance if they know that they will be stationed in Florida for a long period of time. However, they are not required to do so as long as they have military orders keeping them stationed in Florida. Consequently, this means that the military insured will only get the benefit of the coverage’s that are available under their insurance policy and would not qualify for additional Florida Personal Injury Protection coverage benefits if they are in a motor vehicle accident in the State.

There are certain insurers that cater to the Armed Forces personnel. However, there are other insurance options for these individuals based on the competition between insurers. Thus, insurance agents and adjusters should become knowledgeable about the insurance exemptions provided to the Armed Forces personnel so to better service these special clients.

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 legal issues that require 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. 

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Filed under auto insurance, FL Legislation, Florida, Insurance, Insurance Claims, Insurance Defense

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