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About 36 years ago, Florida became the second state in the country to enact a motor vehicle no fault law which required all drivers to buy insurance coverage providing certain minimum protection from medical and wage loss resulting from an accident. Enacted in 1971, the current law requires all automobile insurance policies to provide $ 10,000 in medical and wage loss benefits, regardless of whether the policy holder was at fault for the accident. The law is set to expire in October of this year. In exchange for being required to provide this mandatory coverage, auto insurers were given protection, as well. This was another provision of the law that required proving a permanent injury before any injured person could recover money for pain and suffering against a driver with Florida No Fault coverage.
Florida legislators appear to be unable to reach an agreement extending the no fault law or devising a new law. So, unless something happens in a special session this summer, the 36 year old Florida Motor Vehicle No Fault Law will expire in October of this year. This means that auto insurers won’t be required to provide those minimum levels of insurance. They will likely provide similar coverage voluntarily, but the coverage will also likely come with contractual restrictions that will probably not be in the best interests of the consumers and their doctors. That remains to be seen, but one can certainly expect insurers to include restrictions on such coverage that, until now, would have been illegal. It also means that accident victims won’t have to prove that they sustained a permanent injury in order to recover money damages in court for pain and suffering from drivers at fault for an accident.
Without the “personal injury protection” benefits of the old no fault law, Florida hospitals and doctors who treat patients in emergency situations following auto accidents may be left unpaid or resorting to taxpayers, through the state Medicaid program, to satisfy unpaid debts for this care. In addition, those injured in auto accidents will have to pay out of their own pockets for follow up medical care or resort to their own health insurance, if they are lucky enough to be insured by an employer or private health insurance company. For most, wage losses will go uncompensated unless the injured person is fortunate enough to be covered by some kind of short or long term disability insurance, either private or through an employer benefit plan.
What this means to the consumer is that hiring an experienced and competent attorney early will be critical to minimizing the losses to the family of anyone injured in an accident. Medical expenses and wage loss, as well as intangible damages like pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, mental anguish, permanent disability and disfigurement, will have to be recovered from either the driver at fault and his insurer or the injured person’s own uninsured motorist coverage. Given that about one in three drivers have no liability insurance coverage, uninsured motorist coverage may become more important that ever. Yet, insurers are not required to include that coverage in policies and some even encourage consumers to reject the coverage in writing, without truly explaining how important UM coverage can be.
If the Florida Legislature doesn’t enact some special laws extending or modifying the no fault law this summer, consumers of automobile insurance in Florida will need to be very careful when buying automobile insurance in the coming years. They will need to be careful not to buy coverage that includes restrictions on their legal rights and their basic human right to adequate and appropriate health care. They will need to be careful to buy valuable protection, like uninsured motorist coverage, to protect against being injured by the often uninsured drivers on Florida roadways. If you are renewing your automobile insurance after the Florida Motor Vehicle No Fault Law expires and are concerned about what your insurer is offering you in place of the mandatory coverage required in policies for the last 36 years, call CGWC and ask for a free consultation about automobile insurance in Florida.