News from the front lines. Many of you know that as a member of the Board of Directors of the Florida Justice Association, I have for years spent several days, often weeks, in Tallahassee during legislative session working both behind the scenes and at the podium on behalf of Florida citizens and families. Otto von Bismarck said it best: ‘laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.’ I am reminded of that quote each and every year, as the process is horrifying in its unashamed lack of integrity (I have never gone a full 24 hours in Tallahassee without being lied to), its members’ petty little disputes and grudges, and its fundamental failure to really care about people (the forest) rather than the politicians, special interest groups, and their friends (the trees). This ‘process’, however, remains the best in the world, despite how much better it should and could be.
Having returned early this morning from the Capital, here’s what may matter to you: Rumors to the effect of a new mandatory Bodily Injury (BI) bill becoming law, as well as rumors to the effect that a legislative kill of the existing PIP law are both FALSE. There is no bill to kill or modify PIP in either the House or the Senate. Judicial efforts to kill the PIP bill are underway, and gaining traction thanks to Judge Lewis and others, but that will take time, likely not producing Appellate review or dispositive decision for at least a year, if not longer.
Mandatory BI is more interesting: What started as a side comment made by Gov. Scott in response to questions regarding Judge Lewis’ order, in which Gov. Scott hinted he might be okay with the end of the no-fault (PIP) system, and might be okay (read: not veto) a mandatory BI system, became a fire for many, including a lot of lawyers like me, to fuel. Senator David Simmons’ (R. Seminole) bill from last year (SB 712) was quickly broken out, dusted off (this and similar bills have been proposed regularly in past legislative sessions), and hastily distributed in the Senate. With a sponsor (Simmons of course) ready, and a bill (Simmons’) already drafted, the bill traveled to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee (fortuitously getting on the agenda at such a late date as a result of the Committee Chairman, you guessed it: Senator Simmons). Insufficient time and preparation led to the vote being postponed and the bill laying dead in committee.
The plot thickens. Rumor has it (such things are never really certain) that Senator Simmons may very well have the votes needed to pass the bill in the Senate. Personally, I doubt this is true, but heck, that is what I was told by both Republican and Democratic Senators privately. They said it, so it must be true, right? The bigger problem is the House. There really, I have learned, is no chance of getting any bill through the House as there is no time to get it through the committee process. This is not all politics, but as much a simple matter of time and procedure. The bill just got a late start. While there is talk of a special session being convened by the governor, my assessment of this rumor is that it is very unlikely to happen. Too many factions (the Insurance companies, the doctors, the Hospitals, the trial Lawyers) have too many different opinions about how this bill should look in final form for it to be done quickly. This will (and should) take some time.
So what does this mean? It means that Mandatory BI (and the death of PIP as we know it) will likely be a huge topic of debate over the next year. We must get smart on the issues, and be prepared to consider what is needed and fair. For example, the insurance companies, who have long hated the ‘no-fault’ system, now claim uncertainty about how their bottom line will look in the post-PIP era. Politicians will NOT vote for any bill that increases insurance cost to consumers, regardless of how much better or worse the product is. Hospitals oppose the death of PIP because they make money in their ER departments largely from PIP. Other questions will be hard to answer, such as what should the BI limits be (25/50 are being pushed by some, 15/30 by State Farm and others), should Medical Payments coverage be mandatory and if so, at what limits (Trial lawyers suggests ‘yes’, and ‘5k’ respectively, and finally, what role will the Affordable Health Care Act play in reimbursement schedules for car accident victims. Stay tuned, a pretty important fight is brewing.
Over the coming weeks, Marcus Michles will be in Tallahassee on behalf of accident victims advocating for their rights. Now is an important time for all Florida citizens to become involved, as the decisions made this year, like ever year, can seriously impact all our rights when we, or a loved one, are the victim of another person’s negligence. Contact your representative today to become involved! If you have questions about proposed legislative changes or upcoming bills, or want to understand your rights if you have been in a car accident, contact Michles & Booth for a free consultation.