TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – A Tallahassee judge has signaled that changes to Florida's Personal Injury Protection law may be unconstitutional and ordered a temporary ban on enforcing some of its parts.
Circuit Judge Terry Lewis suspended parts of PIP that require a finding of emergency medical condition and prohibit payments to acupuncturists, massage therapists and chiropractors. He said the law violates the right of access to the courts found in the Florida Constitution.
Lewis signed the order last Friday but it was released Wednesday. The state's Office of Insurance Regulation said it is appealing, and any appeal acts as a hold on Lewis' order.
Lawmakers passed PIP, or no-fault, coverage in the early 1970s to ensure that anyone hurt in an automobile wreck could obtain medical treatment without delay, while waiting for a case to be resolved.
Lewis' order granting in part a motion for temporary injunction says "(t)he fundamental right to seek redress for injuries received at the hands of another is a cornerstone of our legal system,'' and free access to the courts and the administration of justice is enshrined in the state constitution.
Over the years, however, state and federal lawmakers have "tinkered with these fundamental principles,'' said Lewis, adding the PIP law is an “example of this experiment with socialism and the trend away from those libertarian principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility.''
Lewis quickly noted he was using "the popular, if somewhat inaccurate meaning'' of socialism: "Any law that intrudes significantly into the free market arena with government mandates, e.g. socialized medicine.''
The PIP law was a trade-off that provided a "reasonable alternative'' to the courts, Lewis wrote.
"The question raised in this case … is whether the revised no-fault law passes beyond these `outer limits of constitutional tolerance,''' he said, quoting another judge. "I conclude that it does. I) now severely limits what can be recovered.''
The law provides that a driver's insurance company pay up to $10,000 to cover medical bills and lost wages after an accident, no matter who's at fault. All Florida drivers are required to carry PIP insurance.
Over the years, however, authorities have voiced concern that Florida has become a leading state for staged accidents, especially in the Tampa and Miami-Dade metropolitan areas, by those intent on filing bogus PIP claims.
Last year, Gov. Rick Scott made an overhaul bill (HB 119) a cornerstone of his legislative agenda, saying it would help tamp down millions of dollars in PIP fraud. Acupuncture practitioners, massage therapists and chiropractors, angry at being cut out of PIP payments, eventually filed suit.
The changes also limited coverage for medical treatment to $2,500 if an injured person could not show an emergency medical condition.
*Pictured above is Gov. Rick Scott.