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Fast CarJULY 18 -- South Florida lawyers Thursday asked a judge to declare 2012 changes in Florida's car insurance system unconstitutional -- the latest whack at a law that slashes nonemergency Personal Injury Protection benefits to $2,500.

Other challenges have been brought by medical providers, but the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court case pits policyholder Yesenia Boatswain against Garrison Property and Casualty Insurance Co., a subsidiary of insurer USAA.

Plaintiff attorneys argue benefits are now so low under changes pushed by Gov. Rick Scott that the whole premise of the PIP system -- that drivers give up access to the courts to get medical bills paid swiftly regardless of who is at fault -- has fallen apart.

"Reducing PIP benefits from $10,000 to $2,500 is unconstitutional because Florida drivers have now given up their traditional tort remedies, effectively in exchange for nominal payment of medical bills," said Miami attorney Marlene Reiss. "The quid pro quo, on which the constitutionality of the PIP Statute was originally premised, is now gone."

Attorneys representing Garrison were not available and a USAA spokesman declined comment.

A group representing car insurers says the 2012 reforms are helping curb fraud.

"As the industry predicted, trial attorneys and providers are again attacking the PIP law reforms that are benefiting Florida's consumers," said Donovan Brown, Florida counsel for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. "Recent studies show PIP rates are on the decline and cost-driving fraud is being curbed. Regardless of merit, a successful challenge to these reforms would eviscerate savings and reduced fraud. Florida's consumers deserve better."

PIP rates went down 13.2 percent at the state's top 20 auto insurers since the 2012 changes, though that was below a 25 percent target under the law and 12 of the 20 raised overall rates, The Palm Beach Post reported in January. PIP can represent about 20 percent of the total bill.

Florida is one of a handful of states remaining with a no-fault system. No matter how much health insurance they already have, drivers must buy $10,000 of PIP insurance to cover injuries. Florida's Senate insurance chairman declared "PIP has turned to poop" but attempts to ditch the system have foundered. Hospitals and others have lobbied to keep it.

Scott argued for keeping the system but reducing benefits and targeting fraud. The 2012 changes retained $10,000 coverage for emergency care but shrunk nonemergency benefits to $2,500 and banned massage and acupuncture.

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Make sue you have the best possible protection while behind the wheel. Contact Prestige Insurance Group, Inc. at (305) 969-8776 for more information on Miami auto insurance.

(Article courtesy: Charles Elmore of The Palm Beach Post)
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