TALLAHASSEE – A Tallahassee judge Wednesday struck down a massive overhaul to the auto insurance system that was designed to drive down Personal Injury Protection rates, leading the architect of the plan to say it may be time to "ditch" the entire no-fault system.
Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the reforms that banned PIP payments to acupuncturists and massage therapists and said an "emergency medical condition" must be proven for an accident victim to receive the full $10,000 of the coverage, did not pass constitutional muster because they did not adequately compensate drivers for giving up their right to sue.
"Is the no-fault law still a good deal?" asked Lewis in a seven-page opinion. "Is it still a reasonable alternative to the rights guaranteed to citizens [to sue in court for damages]? The answer to these questions is probably, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. And reasonable people may disagree."

Under the changes, which took effect Jan. 1, victims had to seek treatment within 14 days after an accident and get a physician's certification of their "emergency medical condition" to receive the full $10,000 worth of treatment reimbursable under PIP. The law banned payments to acupuncturists and massage therapists and limited chiropractors' fees in most cases to $2,500.Last spring, lawmakers urged on by Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, passed a massive overhaul of PIP, which pays up to $10,000 in medical care for accident victims regardless of who is at fault. The reforms were intended to drive down soaring costs for the compulsory coverage that auto insurers attributed to massive fraud.

In return, insurers were required to drop their PIP rates by 25 percent by January 2014 or explain why they can't. An independent analysis of the law said that this rate change was possible, but it was likely that insurers would increase the costs of other coverages.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who was a sponsor of the reforms, said the Senate must analyze the opinion, but added that it may be time to get rid of PIP, a key component of the state's 40-year-old no-fault system.
Senate Banking and Insurance Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, floated that idea a few months ago, suggesting instead that drivers be required to carry only bodily injury coverage. That requirement – a throwback to Florida's former tort system – would allow motorists to sue a driver who caused an accident. But it would not cover injuries to the at-fault driver.
"Those are options," Negron said.
But, he added, "we're certainly not going to make final decisions based on a temporary injunction."
The Office of Insurance Regulation said it plans to file an appeal by Friday.
Michael Carlson, executive director for the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, a lobbying group for several large insurers, said the ruling was a "setback."
"We hope that OIR will prevail in its planned appeal and that these reforms will be allowed to work to lower PIP premiums in Florida," he said in an email.
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