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Expiration of Florida No-Fault Law Means New Rules for Motorists

Sep 7, 2007

By Urvaksh Karkaria, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville

Sep. 8--Short of an eleventh-hour political intervention, causing an auto accident in Florida could soon mean more pain for your pocketbook.

The Florida No-Fault law, scheduled to expire Oct. 1, requires drivers to purchase Personal Injury Protection, which pays up to a maximum of $10,000, regardless of fault, for injuries caused in an automobile crash. Once the law sunsets, motorists who cause an accident will be responsible for the other driver's accident-related medical bills, and can be sued over them.

The auto insurance industry wants to get rid of PIP, saying it forces drivers to buy extra health insurance coverage they don't need. They also point to claims fraud under the PIP system.

Hospitals and health insurers would rather PIP continue. Hospitals rely on the mandatory medical coverage provided by auto insurers to help pay for care provided to accident victims, especially those without health insurance. Florida hospitals received more than $350 million in PIP money last year, the Florida Hospital Association noted.

Here are some questions to ponder before deciding what a world without PIP would mean to Florida motorists, and how to protect yourself financially in case you cause an auto accident after Oct. 1.

QUESTION: What is a fault-based system?

ANSWER: A fault-based system for injuries holds drivers responsible for injuries they cause. Thirty-eight states, including California, Georgia and Texas, have fault-based auto insurance systems.

Q: How do I financially protect myself as a driver starting next month?

A: If you don't have health insurance, consider buying optional medical payments coverage from your auto insurer, which will pay for medical bills incurred by you, your family, and passengers in your car who are injured in an auto accident, regardless of fault. Also, boost bodily injury liability coverage, which will pay for medical expenses of the motorist you injure in an accident. Uninsured motorist coverage will pay your medical bills regardless of fault if you're hit by a driver who does not have auto insurance.

Q: How much bodily injury coverage is adequate?

A: That depends on how much in assets you have that could be at risk if you cause an accident and are sued by the other motorist. If you have a lot of assets, you probably want to carry more bodily injury coverage than someone without a lot of assets.

Q: How much could I save in a PIP-free world?

A: The average savings for a two-car family in Jacksonville will be more than $290 annually, compared with a statewide average savings of $360. This amount assumes the family has bought bodily injury and uninsured motorist coverage. Two-car families in Tampa will save more than $460 a year; and Miami families can see premiums plummet more than $800 when no-fault sunsets.

Q: I bought an auto insurance policy that doesn't expire until February.

Will I get the remainder of my PIP premium refunded?

A: PIP coverage will continue through the remainder of the current policy. However, drivers can drop the coverage, starting Oct. 1, by contacting their insurer. Policyholders who cancel the coverage should receive a partial refund of their PIP premium.

Q: If I have health insurance, do I also need uninsured motorist and bodily injury coverage?

A: It is advisable. Health insurance pays for medical treatments after an automobile accident, not co-pays, deductibles and other out-of pocket expenses. Your health insurer also will not cover medical claims of other people hurt in an accident if you are at fault.

Q: What happens if I am injured by an at-fault driver who does not have auto insurance?

A: If you have optional medical payments coverage or uninsured motorist coverage, your auto insurer will pay your medical expenses. If you have not purchased such coverage and have health insurance, your health insurer will pay for your medical costs. You can also sue the at-fault driver to get your bills paid.

Source: www.myfloridacfo.com; Floridians for Lower Insurance Costs

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville

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