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Published on March 2013 | By Mark NeJame - Orlando Litigation Attorney; Benjamin W. Loving contributed to this article.

Injured woman holding her neckAs of January 1, 2013 changes by the Florida legislature may have a great impact on the way your car accident claim is handled. If you are injured in an auto accident, you now have a mere two weeks to seek medical treatment or risk the potential loss of the coverage you have been paying for. In Florida, drivers are required to have Personal Injury Protection insurance (PIP) and liability protection to cover property damage. The PIP coverage will cover up to $10,000 of medical treatment if you are injured in an auto accident. The Florida Legislature, with enough prodding by auto insurance companies, has added new hurdles for Florida Drivers to jump over in order to receive PIP benefits.

One of the biggest changes to the law has to do with the timing of seeking medical attention; you must seek your initial medical treatment within 14 days of the accident under the new law. The problem is many people involved car accidents postpone care initially and only seek medical help down the road when aches and pains persist or arise. It is not at all uncommon for someone “self treat” with over-the-counter medications for two or three weeks before seeking appropriate medical attention. Timing is not only hurdle the injured are faced with under the new law; a specific type of medical provider must now perform the initial treatment in order to potentially receive full PIP benefits. Medical providers that fit the bill include Medical Doctors, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, Dentists, Physician’s Assistants or Registered Nurse Practitioners.

Once you have cleared both hurdles of timing and selecting the appropriate medical provider, you are faced with the “Emergency Medical Condition” question. Your medical provider must declare that you have an “Emergency Medical Condition” in order to receive your full PIP benefits. An Emergency Medical Condition is defined as a medical condition that would reasonably be expected to result in serious jeopardy to patient health, serious impairment to a body function, or serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part. If your medical provider does not feel that you have an Emergency Medical Condition, as defined by the new law, you will lose $7,500 of your PIP coverage. What does that mean to you? Unfortunately, you will only have $2,500 of PIP benefits available for medical treatment related to the accident. You may think $2,500 will more than cover your medical bills if you do not have a serious condition, but more than half of your PIP benefits can easily be exhausted in one trip to the emergency room after an accident. In order to navigate your way through the new law, you may want to consult with a personal injury attorney.

You may wonder how the Florida Legislature has managed to take away the benefits that you pay for. The new law was promoted as a way for Florida drivers to save money on auto insurance. The law calls for a 25% reduction in billing for PIP benefits in 2014; however, the insurance companies have a right to petition for exclusion from the reduction. The recent changes toFlorida PIP law also required a 10% reduction in October 2012, but of the 148 insurance company PIP-rate filings that have been approved by the State’s Office of Insurance Regulation, only 25% of these filings show the required reduction. When it comes to winners and losers, the auto insurance companies win big and Florida drivers lose again.

If you are injured in an auto accident, not only you should seek immediate medical attention, but you must seek this service from the appropriate type of medical provider. Your PIP benefits are crucial in your ability to receive and potentially afford proper medical attention. These benefits may be the only thing standing between you and a serious permanent injury. In order to assure that you are taking the appropriate steps to follow the new law, you may want to consult with a qualified personal injury attorney who takes the time and has the experience to educate you on the changes to Florida PIP law and how it may affect your potential accident claim. Be careful and drive safely!

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