A Florida Highway Patrol squad car smacks into another vehicle as part of a demonstration showing how fraud rings are manipulating Florida's personal injury protection insurance system.
Tallahassee, Fla. -- Accident fraud is estimated to cost Florida drivers about an extra billion dollars a year in their insurance coverage for personal injury protection and that's prompting state lawmakers to try to fix the problem.
The Florida House and Senate have very different proposals to combat PIP fraud.
The House version limits attorneys' fees and requires crash victims to be treated in a hospital emergency room within 72 hours of the crash.
The Senate version does not place limits on lawyers' fees and it does not require treatment at an ER within that timeframe.
On Thursday, consumer advocates joined with groups representing doctors and lawyers to announce their support for the Senate version.
Bill Newton of the Florida Consumer Action Network says the House version is bad for consumers because accident victims would be required to go to hospital ER's for treatment instead of their own doctors.
"It mandates that you have to go to the emergency room. It restricts the window of treatment. So pretty soon consumers are going to find out if you don't go to the ER when you're in an auto accident, you will get nothing from PIP. So everyone will go to the ER and it's not like we don't have enough people crowding our ER's for treatment already. So it's just going to make that worse and of course we know the ER is the most expensive way to treat health care."
Gov. Rick Scott, who has made PIP reform one of his top priorities this year, prefers the House bill. He says it cracks down harder on fraudulent medical providers and lawyers that take advantage of the system to inflate legal fees.
"We've got to do the right thing so these lawyers can't say, if an insurance company might underpay by a dollar, so I'll file this suit and get significant legal fees just to get legal fees. Not because they're helping citizens of this state.' So the House bill does a better job at this."
On Thursday, the governor and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater attended a demonstration of staged car crashes by the Florida Highway Patrol to show examples of accident fraud.
One example showed how people involved in a fraudulent scheme will hide on the side of the road near a staged crash. Then they jump into the vehicles and subsequently claim they were injured.
Gov. Scott says that's one scenario showing how accident fraud is increasing the cost of auto insurance for everyone.
Scott says PIP insurance rates have been soaring 30 percent a year due to fraud and now he's calling on lawmakers to pass legislation that cracks down on, what he calls, a billion dollar tax on Floridians.
"That's money back into somebody's pocket so they can afford food or shelter, transportation, things like that, education for the kids. This is the same thing. This is a billion dollars of fraud on the citizens of our state, money that should be back in their hands, not to somebody who's running a clinic that's taking advantage of the system, lawyers that are taking advantage of the system. So this to me is a no-brainer. Why we wouldn't want to fix this and be aggressive at fixing this?"
Atwater says the number of traffic crashes has actually dropped in recent years but PIP claims have skyrocketed.
"How could a system that was designed for fewer accidents have 275 percent more lawsuits? How could a time of declining accidents have a billion dollar increase in premiums? That's the question and the governor said we're going to get to the bottom of it."
First Coast News