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Deal Worked Out to Bring PIP Back on Jan. 1

Oct 4, 2007

By Josh Hafenbrack, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Oct. 5--TALLAHASSEE -- PIP is back -- or at least it will be on Jan. 1.

The Florida Legislature ended roller-coaster negotiations to restore the state's no-fault auto insurance system on Friday morning, with quick votes in the House and Senate. The Senate approved legislation to bring back mandatory personal-injury protections, or PIP, on a 37-0 vote, sending the issue to Gov. Charlie Crist for his signature.

PIP, which expired on Monday, will come back on Jan. 1 with new features intended to fight fraud and abuse in the system.

Only a day earlier, the fragile political truce between the two chambers had come apart over the issue of attorney fees. A Republican-controlled House committee voted to limit how much attorneys can collect in car-accident cases involving personal injury -- something the Senate wouldn't support.

But on Friday, lead negotiator state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, stripped the controversial legal limits from the bill.

"This has been a very long, drawn out process, and I'm just glad it's over," Bogdanoff said.

PIP is mandatory $10,000 auto insurance coverage used for personal injuries. It's paid regardless of who is at fault in an accident. PIP expired Monday after more than three decades on the books, and legislators have been engaged in on-again, off-again negotiations on emergency legislation to bring it back.

Under the compromise, PIP won't go back on the books until Jan. 1. Between now and then, Florida drivers could get sued for minor car accidents if one of the drivers involved does not have personal injury protections. If both drivers have PIP, however, the no-fault system will still be in effect.

Working over the summer and in special session this week, lawmakers had worked out a proposal to restore the system, but with new anti-fraud controls. Among those are restrictions on what procedures will be covered and who can be reimbursed for care in an effort to preclude claims by fly-by-night clinics.

The House and Senate had differed over whether the measure should also limit fees for lawyers in cases where drivers and their insurer disagree over whether a claim should be paid. The House wanted to limit lawyers' fees; the Senate didn't.

Bogdanoff and Sen. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, said negotiators worked overnight Friday and decided to remove lawyer fee caps from the House bill, rather than risk scrapping the system. Senate leaders had said lawyer fee caps would kill the bill.

Bogdanoff said the House could fight for more limits on lawyers another time. But for now, "we have a product that's going to go a long way to eliminate the abuse and the fraud in the system," she said.

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Copyright (c) 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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