With the prominence of insurance company advertisements on the radio, on television, in print, and in online media, it can be difficult to differentiate between inexpensive coverage and prudent coverage. One feature that everyone shopping for insurance should look for is personal injury protection, also called PIP, or medical payments coverage. It allows for payments of an injured person's bills, regardless of fault, and it can be a great way to defer initial out-of-pocket expenses while waiting for a case to settle. Additionally, it can be invaluable in the rare instance where the driver is the cause of his or her own injury.
Once upon a time, PIP coverage was considered so important that several states made it a mandatory provision of their insured's policies, including Maryland and, more notoriously, Florida. Florida's PIP requirement, passed in 1972, requires all drivers to carry $10,000 in coverage. By contrast, a typical non-mandatory policy in other states is often issued in increments as low as $2,000. The Florida requirement has surely benefitted thousands who have found themselves injured as a result of another's negligence, or even their own negligence. But recently, the Florida PIP law has become a target for insurance reform. Insurance groups have estimated that PIP related fraud neared $1 billion in the 2011 fiscal year. Consumer advocate groups are likewise seeking reform because the cost of that alleged fraud, largely from staged accidents and other false claims, is passed on to the customer through higher premiums. And an unlikely partner, civil rights and civil liberty advocates, have joined the reform calls as they argue that the hostile nature of insurance adjusters towards claimants in Florida has invaded the personal freedom of the insured, including asking difficult and often embarrassing questions they argue are meant to chill the claims.
Should PIP be available in all states? It is unclear what Florida is going to do with its PIP requirement. A whole generation of drivers has grown up with this coverage as part of their lives. Current proposals include requiring injured persons to seek medical care at an approved list of providers within a seventy-two (72) hour period and requiring the injured person to submit to an independent medical examination (IME).
From the prospective of a Virginia personal injury attorney, I cringe at the latter proposal. One of my first lessons in this fascinating area of law was that IME is the ultimate misnomer. A medical examination conducted at the request of the insurance company, or defense counsel advocating for the insurance company, and conducted by a physician being compensated by the same parties for his opinion can hardly be considered "independent." Another proposed provision limits reimbursements to certain providers, targeting groups that are perceived as more likely to engage in fraudulent behavior, including physician's assistants, dentists and chiropractors.
Similar to the proposed IME language, any restrictions on treatment options bring a chill to my spine. Not every injured person will have unlimited medical treatment options, some will be uninsured, some will be resistant to surgical procedures, and some will be seen by urgent care clinics and family practices instead of emergency rooms. The legislature should not dictate the freedom to seek treatment. Leave those decisions up to the patients and then allow the insurers and their skilled adjusters, with the help of trained personal injury attorneys, to evaluate the claims for merit. Yes, the few bad apples will make the news and leave a bitter taste for some. However, for the majority of those who are legitimately injured and seek the assistance of a personal injury attorney, the system will prevail and will prevail in a timely manner. Reactive and hastily drafted regulations are not the appropriate way to reform a largely self-regulating system. If you have any questions or issues regarding personal injury insurance in D.C., please contact our D.C. personal injury attorney.
For a Virginia personal injury attorney, of course, mandatory PIP or medical coverage is not something I worry about on a daily basis. Virginia allows its citizenry to make these important decisions about whether they are cost conscious or risk averse, and informed consumers can decide what is best for them. In my years of experience, however, I can confidently say that anyone who does not voluntarily add PIP or medical payments coverage to their existing policy is doing themselves and their loved ones a great disservice. Insurance is all too often seen as a luxury, until an accident or injury happens. When you consider Virginia's tough stance on liability, contributory negligence as a complete bar to recovery, PIP or medical payments coverage is even more crucial. Don't say I didn't warn you.