When clients come to our Panama City car accident law firm, they are looking for answers. Our job is to help accident victims understand how Florida law applies to their unique situation and to help them explore all options for compensation. In some cases, this means battling the injured client's own insurance company in order to help the victim obtain the full value of the insurance they've paid for, making sure the insurance company does not get away with an unfairly low payment. Other times, this means going after another driver whose negligence led to the accident.
Florida law is very complex, but navigating it is our job. While it is no substitute for legal advice, we hope this blog helps members of our community understand some of the key concepts that impact claims in civil court. This post deals with a principle that can be particularly confusing to newcomers to our state: the Florida no-fault system.
Florida is a no-fault state. This differs from the traditional tort concept, where recovery is based on fault. 12 states, plus Puerto Rico, operate on a no-fault system. In Florida, if you are injured in a car accident, a portion of your own insurance known as Personal Injury Protection ("PIP") applies. This coverage is required by Florida Statute Section 627.736. PIP coverage pays 80% of reasonable medical expenses and 60% of lost earnings, regardless of who caused the accident. Your PIP coverage also includes members of your household other than the driver, such as a child who is a passenger at the time of a collision.
Florida's no-fault law also has limits. It does not pay for property damage, and a driver may have a claim against the other driver's property damage insurance. No-fault coverage does not pay for medical bills that exceed the victim's PIP coverage limit. Additionally, a victim has the right to bring a claim against an at-fault injury when the victim sustains a "serious injury." Whether an injury qualifies as "serious" is a legal-medical question, but generally it involves permanent injury or disfigurement/significant scarring. Likewise, where a car accident results in death, the victim's family generally has a right to sue to at-fault driver.
Why does Florida use a no-fault rule? The goal of the system is to provide quicker payments to injured individuals and allow for faster medical treatment. However, this is not always the case, and often victims will find themselves in a battle with their insurance company over the amount of coverage. Critics of the no-fault system also note that it may not effectively discourage reckless driving behavior. Engaging an experienced Florida accident attorney is crucial if you want to receive the maximum compensation the law and your policy provide. An injury attorney can also help you explore whether you have claims beyond those against your PIP carrier.
Additionally, as we reported previously, earlier this year the Florida legislature introduced changes to the PIP system. While the legislature suggests these changes will lower premiums, they may also make it easier for insurer's to limit or deny coverage. Insurance companies will be able to limit coverage to $2,500 in some cases, forcing victims to fight harder for their rights. We will continue to follow the new law as it takes effect (mostly at the start of next year) in order to continue providing top-notch service to our clients. Please call if our Panama City law firm can help you.