Automobile insurance laws in Florida require the owner of a vehicle to have a certain amount of personal injury protection. Fla. Stat. § 627.736. Personal injury protection provides compensation to you in the event you are in an accident. The minimum amount of personal injury coverage required by law is $10,000.00 Fla. Stat. § 627.736, but you can purchase higher amounts of insurance that covers medical, surgical, funeral, and disability benefits regardless of fault. This is known as no-fault insurance. Fla. Stat. § 627.731.
Throughout most of the United States, auto insurance functions under a traditional fault-based system. Insurance companies make payments based on each person’s degree of fault in a particular motor vehicle accident. However, long, drawn out court battles are often required to determine who is at fault in many cases. In an attempt to cut down on this problem, thirteen states (Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Colorado) have adopted no-fault insurance laws– also called personal injury protection or PIP.
Under Florida’s no-fault insurance statute, if you are hurt in an accident, your insurance automatically will pay 80% of your reasonable medical expenses related to injuries sustained in the accident and 60% of your lost earnings subject to the limits of the no-fault coverage and any applicable deductible (or up to the specified policy limit) regardless of who caused the accident.
If you are a family member, no-fault insurance also covers relatives in your household who do not have their own no-fault policy. Personal Injury Protection benefits can be paid by your policy even if family members are passengers in another person’s car or pedestrians when they are hurt. In the event that you cause damage to someone else’s property, no-fault insurance will pay up to a predetermined limit for damages your vehicle does to other people’s tangible property such as buildings, trees, road signs, etc, and will pay to repair or replace other vehicles, but only if the vehicles were properly parked.
In the instance you are killed in a car accident, no-fault pays survivor’s benefits, which is income which you would have provided to your family. These benefits are usually limited to a maximum amount per month for a set amount of time. Your policy will not pay benefits if you are the owner or registrant of an uninsured motor vehicle that was involved in an accident. Therefore, it is important that you have insurance coverage on all vehicles that you own.
Many people commonly believe that if they meet the requirements under Florida law then they have full coverage. As the descriptions of the different categories of automobile insurance below indicate, the Florida requirements constitute a very bare minimum and rarely do they adequately protect persons involved in automobile accidents. The statutory minimum alone does not constitute full coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage, essential coverage, including bodily injury coverage, and collision are not required by Florida law.
Limits to No-Fault Insurance
Drivers should be aware that no-fault insurance has several limitations. These are a few things which no-fault insurance generally does not pay for: repairs to your vehicle after an accident no matter whose fault it was; repairs to another person’s vehicle after an accident, no matter whose fault it was, unless the vehicle was properly parked; and costs for replacement of your vehicle if it was stolen.
In order to receive a guaranteed payment, you must give up some of your rights to sue the other driver involved in the accident. You may be allowed to sue for non-economic damages if the amount of these damages exceeds a specified tort threshold. Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania have verbal thresholds. The other eight states use a monetary threshold: Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota and Utah. New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Kentucky have a “choice” no-fault law. In these three states, motorists may reject the lawsuit threshold and retain the right to sue for any auto-related injury.
If you wish to file a lawsuit against the at fault driver, Florida’s no-fault insurance law requires that you must show that you sustained a “serious” injury. Fla. Stat. § 627.737. Pain and suffering damages are generally only recoverable for serious injuries that involve sustained permanent injury, significant scarring or disfigurement, or death.
There are two categories of auto insurance – first-party coverage and third-party coverage. First-party coverage covers you and your property (such as medical expenses, damage to your vehicle and the insurance company’s duty to defend you in the event that you are sued as the result of your operation of a vehicle, etc.). Third-party coverage is for your responsibility to pay for injury caused to other people (and vice versa), whether in your vehicle, or another vehicle involved in the accident.
The coverage (and its exclusions) is explained in your insurance policy. In exchange for the payment of a premium, the insurance company promises to provide compensation in the event of certain occurrences. While adequately explaining all aspects of insurance coverage and laws would be far too time consuming, the following is a brief synopsis of the most typical coverage and issues.
Personal Injury Protection
In addition to liability insurance, Florida requires all drivers to have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. Fla. Stat. § 627.736. Personal injury coverage is not health insurance, and it is not designed to pay for your medical bills. What it is designed to do is offer a onetime settlement or payment for all of your damages. In Florida, your policy must cover eighty percent of all reasonable expenses for medically necessary medical, surgical, X-ray, dental, and rehabilitative services, including prosthetic devices, and medically necessary ambulance, hospital, and nursing services. Fla. Stat. § 627.736.
The personal injury insurance minimum required by law in Florida is ten thousand dollars for bodily injury or death of one person in any one accident. Fla. Stat. § 627.736. Lawsuits in Florida must be filed against the negligent driver and may not also name the insurance carrier as a defendant. In fact, the jury is not allowed to know that there is insurance coverage available on the defendant. If the jury renders a verdict in excess of the defendant’s liability policy limit, the defendant is then personally liable out of his or her own assets for the additional amount.
Bodily Injury Coverage
If your injury is caused by the negligence of a defendant, your attorney can file a claim under the bodily injury liability coverage of the negligent defendant’s insurance policy. Bodily injury liability coverage covers a driver’s legal liability for the injury or death that they, or any permitted user, may cause with their vehicle. When you are injured in a car accident and the person at fault is either the driver of the other vehicle or, if you are a passenger, the driver of the car in which you are riding, you may file a bodily injury claim with that driver’s insurance company. In most bodily injury liability policies, bodily injury includes sickness, disease, injury, or death arising from sickness, disease, or injury.
Medical Payments (Med-Pay) Coverage
When purchasing automobile insurance, you may elect to receive an optional type of coverage called medical payments (med-pay) coverage. Fla. Stat. § 627.736. Med-pay coverage pays accident-related medical expenses not covered by Personal Injury Protection. This coverage is available to the insured driver (the individual who holds the policy which includes med-pay coverage) and any passengers in the insured’s vehicle for injuries sustained, regardless of the fault of the driver. It is important to note that the insurance policy of the negligent party does not pay med-pay or PIP benefits to an injured plaintiff. These benefits are limited to the driver or passengers in the insured vehicle, regardless of fault. The plaintiff looks to his own insurance policy or the policy on the vehicle in which he was a passenger for med-pay or PIP benefits.
Collision coverage is a type of voluntary coverage you can purchase, which will cover the repair or replacement of your own vehicle after an accident, regardless of who is at fault. An innocent victim of an accident may present a claim for the property damage under his or her own collision coverage or under the negligent defendant’s property damage liability insurance coverage.
Your own collision coverage normally includes a deductible, while property damage liability insurance coverage does not. In an automobile accident case, after a claim has been paid under collision coverage, the insurance carrier who paid the claim may proceed against the property damage liability insurance carrier for the negligent defendant to recover the amount paid out. This process is called subrogation, and does not affect your recovery.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Benefits
Uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits are another type of voluntary coverage you can purchase, and it is recommended that you add this type of coverage to your policy. This coverage protects you against a negligent defendant who either does not have liability insurance coverage or only has minimum coverage that is inadequate to fully compensate you for your injuries. If you are involved in an accident with an uninsured but negligent individual, your attorney would make a claim for you under your own uninsured motorist coverage. Your own insurance carrier would then have to pay any judgment which may be rendered, up to the limits of the policy which you purchased.
If the person who caused the accident has liability insurance, but the policy limit of his or her liability insurance is less than the uninsured motorist coverage of your policy, your attorney can make an additional claim under your own policy for what is called underinsured motorist benefits, in the event that your damages exceed the limits of the other party’s liability coverage. Uninsured/underinsured motorist claims can be a problematic area of law to practice, and the experience of an attorney familiar with these issues is important in order to obtain the maximum amount of recovery for you.