New laws kick in Tuesday
Starting Jan. 1, several new laws will kick in across the state, including “the Safe Harbor Act,” which is aimed at better protecting kids who might be victims of sexual abuse; along with new legislation that no longer makes it illegal for motorists to flash their headlights to warn other drivers that police are lurking somewhere ahead.
While neither the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office nor the Punta Gorda Police Department have been writing citations for motorists who flash their headlights in advance of speed zones, one thing to which local drivers might want to pay attention is forthcoming changes in Florida’s Personal Injury Protection law, which governs basic insurance needs for motorists.
PIP coverage is required under all auto-insurance policies in Florida, covering 80 percent of any medical bills up to $10,000 and 60 percent of lost wages, along with providing a $10,000 death benefit.
Originally enacted in 1971, the new changes to the law look to cut down insurance fraud, and, in turn, to cut back on insurance rates for drivers; but at least one local insurance agent thinks that if rates aren’t impacted as soon as six months, then the law has not been written properly to protect rate-payers.
“It’s too early to tell if it’s going to work, but there are already people looking for ways around this law,” said Jack Alexander, owner of Insurance Depot, an independent insurance agency in Port Charlotte. “It’s not a panacea for what’s wrong.”
Changes to the law include: initial treatments for motorists who experience an accident must be done within 14 days of the wreck, putting a timeline on what was an open-ended process; all initial treatments must be provided by a licensed physician at the physician’s office or hospital facility, instead of at pain-management clinics or chiropractic offices; and massage therapy and acupuncture no longer are covered under the new law.
According to attorney Russell Kirshy, who handles criminal defense, along with personal-injury and auto-accident cases, the new law is a “money grab” by insurance companies that will limit the way to make a claim on your own insurance.
Kirshy said an attorney should be advising his clients to get to an emergency room or a doctor as soon as possible to document the injuries, and doing so will protect your rights as a policyholder.
But Kirshy thinks the new legislation ultimately is aimed at lawyer- and doctor-referral services that are trying to accomplish everything in-house, providing a one-stop shop for the lawyer and medical needs of motorists injured in auto accidents.
“Insurance companies want to find ways not to pay claims,” Kirshy added. “And a lot of people don’t go to the doctor immediately because they think their injuries will get better or it takes a while for the injuries to show themselves.”
In the business for nearly as long as the PIP law has been in existence, Alexander said the original legislation, while the focus of good intent, since has caused motorists’ insurance rates to skyrocket over the years.
What was once a benefit for a state that had a lot of uninsured motorists on the road, it since has turned into a burden, he said.
“Insurance in Florida is expensive,” Alexander added. “It’s amazing how it (PIP) has affected everyone’s rates.”
Representatives from the state Department of Children and Families, which would oversee the new Safe Harbor Act, could not be reached for comment Friday.