By Amy O'Connor | April 20, 2021
After many years of trying, Florida is closer than ever to repealing its 50-year-old motor vehicle no-fault law.
However, many industry stakeholders have expressed opposition to the legislation passed by the Florida Senate last week and its companion bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee Monday, saying the proposals will actually raise rates for many Florida drivers and be ineffective at weeding out fraud.
Florida’s current no fault law requires drivers to carry personal injury protection coverage of $10,000. If passed, the new law would instead require that drivers carry bodily injury liability coverage with limits starting at $25,000 per person.
Senate Bill 54 and House Bill 719 would also create a new framework to govern motor vehicle claims handling and third-party bad faith failure to settle actions against motor vehicle insurance carriers. The bills also require policies include a medical payments option of $5,000, though under the House version insureds can opt out of purchasing the coverage.
SB 54’s minimum liability requirements for motor vehicle ownership or operation include:
For bodily injury (BI) or death of one person in any one crash, $25,000, and, subject to that limit for one person, $50,000 for BI or death of two or more people in any one crash.
Retaining the existing $10,000 financial responsibility requirement for property damage.
Eliminating the limitations on recovering pain and suffering damages from PIP insurers, which currently require bodily injury that causes death or significant and permanent injury.
Insurers may also offer medical payments coverage with limits of $10,000, without a deductible, to cover medical expenses of the insured. Insurers can offer other policy limits that exceed $5,000 and may offer deductibles of up to $500. SB 54 requires that insurers must reserve the first $5,000 of MedPay benefits for 30 days to pay providers of emergency services or hospital inpatient care.
The exclusion of a specifically named individual from specified insurance coverages under a private passenger motor vehicle policy, with the written consent of the policyholder, is also authorized under the bill.
“Florida is one of only two states in the country that does not currently require drivers to carry liability coverage that would immediately kick in if they cause harm to another person while operating a motor vehicle,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson in a statement. “For everyone’s protection, drivers must be insured at sufficient levels. PIP coverage levels are clearly insufficient. It’s the right time for Florida to move to mandatory coverage for bodily injury liability.”
Included in the Senate version of the bill and added Monday to the House version is the creation of a new framework for motor vehicle insurance bad faith actions. The bill requires insurers to follow claims handling best practices standards based on “long-established good faith duties related to claims handling, claim investigations, defense of the insured and settlement negotiations,” a Senate statement said.
But industry groups say the proposed bad faith reforms will not reduce lawsuits, which is a primary driver of costs for the state’s insurers.
“Meaningful reforms to Florida’s deeply unfair bad faith system should be included to help reduce lawsuits,” said Michael Carlson, president and CEO of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida. “While the Senate bill includes an attempt at bad faith reform, it has been weakened by the trial bar to the point that it may not help reduce lawsuits.”
The American Property Casualty Insurance Association’s (APCIA) Assistant Vice President of State Government Relations Logan McFaddin said the proposals lack “any meaningful reforms to Florida’s bad faith laws, which will only serve to fuel the current cycle of lawsuit abuse, worsen Florida’s legal environment, and could lead to even higher costs for consumers.”
Specifically, McFaddin said HB 719 is a “considerable step backward and [will] do nothing to alleviate the current abuses of Florida’s bad faith laws.”
PIFF and APCIA said the passage of the proposed PIP repeals would likely raise costs for Florida drivers, particularly those who buy the minimum required insurance or who currently buy bodily injury coverage at amounts below what the proposed law requires.
Florida’s uninsured motorist rate would likely increase from its current 20%, the groups said, as more low-income and underinsured drivers will be unable to purchase higher amounts of coverage. Florida drivers currently pay the highest premiums in the nation, according to MarketWatch data.
“In Florida, approximately 40% of drivers carry minimum limits that are below what would be required under SB 54. Under the current proposal, these drivers could see their auto insurance costs rise by $165 to as much as $876 a year,” said McFaddin.
“Florida cannot afford the higher insurance rates generated by HB 719 and SB 54,” Carlson said.
Senator Jeff Brandes was the lone vote in the Senate against SB 54. Brandes supported a previous version that did not include a mandatory MedPay option, and said there was insufficient time to gather data on if the amended bill would lower rates for Florida drivers. Brandes voiced concern the new version would increase the number of uninsured drivers in the state and harm low-income policyholders.
“We have no basis for making claims that rates will go down,” he said. “Twenty percent of Floridians are driving around without auto insurance and if we raise prices, more Floridians will drive around without insurance – that is a huge problem for me.”
APCIA’s McFaddin said lawmakers are attempting to eliminate the major public policy “through a rushed process without an objective study on the cost impact to consumers.”
However, Senator Danny Burgess, SB 54 sponsor, asserted his bill would eliminate fraud in the system that would lower costs and would offer an overall reduction in rates. The bill, he said, is trying to right a “very broken system.”
“The goal of this legislation is to lower the number of uninsured and underinsured drivers and provide a greater safety net in the event of an accident. Replacing our current no-fault system with a bodily injury liability system more appropriately places liability where it should be – with the party that caused the accident,” said Burgess.
He added the new framework for handling bad faith litigation, “will lead to better outcomes for both insured Floridians and their insurance companies.”
A report from the Office of Insurance Regulation in February noted that overall loss trends for automobile insurance losses in Florida are continuing to increase for the most significant coverages such as BI liability, PIP, and comprehensive coverage. The increases are a result of cost drivers such as a higher rate of fatal crashes in Florida than the rest of the country, higher loss trends for BI and PIP, and the costs of services associated with auto insurance such as medical care, hospital care and motor vehicle body work.
“These trends in auto insurance rates will likely continue, regardless of whether PIP remains or is replaced by BI,” the report stated. “If PIP is repealed and replaced with mandatory BI and MedPay, without addressing bad faith and litigation trends, increased litigation and claims costs associated with the new mandatory coverages could increase premiums dramatically.”
HB 719 now goes to the full House for a vote. If passed and signed by the governor, the new system would take effect Jan. 1, 2022.