Local News

Debate over no-fault insurance continues

SEBRING - When Florida began a no-fault auto insurance system, the idea was that it would result in fewer lawsuits, says George Hensley of Heacock Insurance Group. But, Hensley said, it hasn't quite turned out that way. And because of that, the Florida Legislature is considering dropping the no-fault system. The Legislature, concerned about fraud in the system, had adopted a measure preventing using the insurance claims for treatment by acupuncturists and massage therapists, in additional to some services from chiropractors. It also limited payments for non-emergency care.
This past week, the state appeals court reversed a lower court ruling and upheld the legislation involving the limits. However, legislators indicated plans to continue plans for legislation to scrap the no-fault system. Hensley said the no-fault system sought to reduce lawsuits by creating a $10,000 threshold. It prevented lawsuits when medical care for damages did not exceed $10,000, Hensley said. But people found ways to get around that, he said. "Over time people were able to go to doctors and get over the threshhold and sue anyway," he said. "Because of that there became a situation where it was ineffective." Hensley said he "would support eliminating it based on circumstances the way they are." But William Byron, owner of Grand Prix Services Corp., said that while he knows there's a problem with fraud, "I don't think overall it's a good idea to repeal it totally." Byron said he believes that while the no-fault system may not be effective as envisioned in cutting the number of lawsuits, eliminating it would likely lead to more lawsuits. People would see their insurance premiums drop, but they would lose protections against lawsuits in cases involving injuries, death and disability, he said. Hensley said that other coverages within the plans could cover that and people could beef up their medical coverage. But Byron said the impact would differ on people, depending on their carriers. "Not all carriers offer medical coverage," he said. "It just depends on the way your policy is set up." Paul Rieck, owner of Lake Okeechobee Insurance, said he favors repealing the no-fault system and going to a tort liability system in place in most states. That won't solve all the problems, but will eliminate the situation now where people can work the system and get $10,000 worth of benefits, even though that may not be merited, he said. One advantage often attributed to no-fault systems is that people may be able to get their medical claims reimbursed sooner than if they had to go after another person's insurance company. The News Service of Florida contributed to this story. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834