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State Agency Rules Drivers Will Still Need Insurance If No-Fault Law Expires

Aug 22, 2007

By Linda Kleindienst, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Aug. 23--TALLAHASSEE -- Think you're confused about pending changes in Florida's auto insurance law? The state may be as perplexed as you are.

In an embarrassing reversal, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles now admits it fouled up its interpretation of state law.

If Florida's no-fault law expires Oct. 1, as it's now scheduled to do, drivers will no longer need to buy $10,000 in personal injury protection. Until this week, department officials were also saying most Florida motorists would no longer have to carry property damage coverage as well.

On Wednesday, the department began singing another tune, based on a fresh opinion from its legal staff. Even if no-fault disappears, it said, Florida drivers will still need to have at least $10,000 in property damage insurance coverage.

But how the state plans to enforce that requirement -- or whether it can be enforced at all -- is still a subject of lawyerly debate.

"We believe the law reads that you must have property damage liability insurance, but we still have our general counsel looking at whether you need to prove you have that insurance," said Ann Nucatola, the department's public information director. "We do not know what our enforcement will be."

Sen. Steve Geller, D-Cooper City, expressed perplexity at the department's confusion. He is one of several state legislators who have maintained that Florida drivers will be required to carry some insurance even if no-fault disappears, and that they'll have to prove it when they renew their car registrations each year.

"They were wrong before," Geller, an attorney, said of the state's motor vehicle agency. "They clearly have the ability to require proof of property damage insurance. Maybe they're not sure, but I'm sure."

The confusion, he added, "reflects badly on them, not on the state of the law."

As of Wednesday, this is what the state says the law requires, and what won't change no matter what happens with no-fault: If you are a Florida driver who gets into an accident and can't furnish proof that you have property damage protection, you could be found guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor. That could lead to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.

State law currently requires that each car be insured for at least $10,000 in personal injury protection, or PIP, and at least $10,000 in property damage. Insurance companies are required to notify the state if a policy holder drops either form of coverage -- but Nucatola said her department isn't sure that will still be true if PIP, also known as no-fault, expires Oct. 1.

The state's major insurance companies have been fighting to end no-fault, claiming it has been rife with fraud and has led to higher insurance rates. Hospitals and consumer groups are battling to keep no-fault in effect to ensure that accident-related medical costs will be paid for victims.

House and Senate leaders have been discussing the issue but there is little indication legislators will reach a consensus on what to do about no-fault before it expires. The Legislature is set to meet in a three-week special session beginning Sept. 18, but the agenda is limited at present to cutting the state budget.

Linda Kleindienst can be reached at lkleindienst@sun-sentinel.com or 850-224-6214.

On the road Passenger cars registered, June 2006-May 2007 Broward: 936,021 Palm Beach: 668,651 Miami-Dade: 1,320,000

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Copyright (c) 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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