Down But Not Out: New PIP Statute Goes Back Into Effect

In an expected turn of events, the 1st District Court of Appeals has struck-down the injunction which was blocking the implementation of the new PIP statute. The statute, passed in 2012 with strong insurance industry support, makes many changes to the old PIP system that are unfavorable to medical providers here in Florida. These changes include not allowing massage therapists or acupuncturists to bill PIP benefits, forcing someone in a car wreck to start treatment within two weeks or be barred from receiving treatment , and capping chiropractic treatment at $2,500.00 unless there is a so-called “emergency  medical condition.” Unfortunately, these rules are now in full effect as the injunction blocking them has been lifted by the Court of Appeals.

As we discussed here on PIP Guru a few weeks ago, the main issue presented in the case was whether the massage therapists, acupuncturists, and chiropractors who filed the lawsuit had standing to challenge the new PIP Statute. When a party to a lawsuit challenges standing, they are arguing that the other party has no real interest in the outcome of the case. If a party lacks standing, the law says that their rights will not be affected by the lawsuit and the case should be dismissed. Appearing on behalf of the State of Florida, State Solicitor General Allen Winsor argued that the medical providers who brought the lawsuit to keep the injunction in place lacked standing because they were not actually harmed by the new PIP statute. Winsor went on to say that any injury that the medical providers might suffer in the future was “purely hypothetical” and that the facts of the case did not show a present, real, and concrete injury.

Representing medical providers, attorneys for Florida’s PIP Legal Defense Fund argued that without the injunction blocking the new PIP Statute, they would be harmed by losing substantial PIP-related business. This is a strong point, as the new law will keep acupuncturists and massage therapists from earning any type of living under the new PIP Statute. Furthermore, the attorneys for the medical providers argued that the new law will severely restrict a chiropractor’s ability to provide care to accident patients. All in all, the medical providers argued that because they receive a large portion of their incomes from PIP Insurance payments, which the new statute will prohibit or severely limit, that they have a strong interest in the outcome of the case, a clear injury that will occur if the law stays in place, and therefore standing to sue.

These arguments were presented to Judge Terry Lewis, who explained that his reason for issuing the injunction was not to address the potential economic harm to the medical providers, but instead to protect the constitutional right of citizens to seek help from the courts if they are wrongfully injured. In Florida, the right to have your day in court is considered fundamental and therefore cannot be limited unless the state government has what is called a “compelling state interest.” Common examples of the state’s “compelling interests” include the security of Florida citizens and ensuring people’s right to vote. Judge Lewis stated in his opinion that the medical providers who brought the suit had standing to sue to protect the rights of the Florida citizens and their access to the courts.

Unfortunately, the 1st District Court of Appeals did not agree with the medical providers and instead ruled in favor of the State of Florida. On the issue of standing, the court reasoned that although the medical providers might have a business interest in the outcome of the case (loss of revenue, not being able to bill PIP), the providers do not have a strong enough interest to challenge the law based on access to the courts. The court stated that “Constitutional rights are personal” and that “a party who is not adversely affected by a statute…has no standing to argue that the statute is invalid.”

While the court decided to dismiss the injunction and therefore put the new PIP statute back into full effect, we here at PIP Guru are confident that this fight is far from over. In their opinion, the court also said that the party who does have standing to sue in this case-injured motorists whose ability to sue has been limited by the statute-can still challenge the new law as being unconstitutional. This language leaves the door open for a party matching that description to file a lawsuit to find the new PIP law unconstitutional. Furthermore, it is a very good sign for medical providers that the court only addressed the issue of standing and did not go into any other issues that might be brought against the new Statute. The consensus among PIP attorneys here in Florida is that while this decision by the 1st DCA is a small speed bump in the fight against the new PIP statute, it by no means is a decision by the Florida courts that the statute is valid. The insurance companies may have won this battle, but they have not won the war.

Feel free to contact us here at PIP Guru if you have questions about the new statute or PIP law in general at 1-800-ACCIDENT or 305-821-3100.