‘It’s ruined my life’: Car accident victim says she was crippled and Florida laws made it worse

Critics call it the car accident lottery. Unlike almost every other state, Florida does not require insurance coverage that makes at fault drivers pay for serious injuries or deaths.

Action 9 reporter Todd Ulrich investigated how that impacted one local family and why state lawmakers are considering major reforms.

“You think that's a mess. I'm worse,” Roberta Arens said while holding a photo of her mangled car.

The accident shattered her body and her life. An out of control pick-up truck crushed her new car. Arens was airlifted to a trauma center where doctors replaced two knees, a hip and a wrist.

“I'm in pain almost every day. I'm crippled. It's ruined my life,” Arens said holding back tears.

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Arens’ security job offered solid medical coverage, but she still faces tens of thousands in recovery bills, and the at-fault driver didn't have any insurance to pay for the injuries she caused.

“It was devastating. This definitely needs to change. This is just wrong,” Arens said.

Florida is one of only two states not requiring drivers to carry coverage that pays for the injuries or deaths they cause to others.

“Any Floridian is at risk,” said attorney Sam Dunaway.

Critics lead by personal injury attorneys, like Dunaway, say without it you face a real risk of being injured by drivers who don't cover any of your bills.

“That's why I call it the car accident lottery, and everybody plays because everybody drives,” Dunaway said.

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The insurance policy coverage is called bodily injury liability, it pays others for their injuries when you’re at fault. The coverage is required in 48 states but it's just an option in Florida.

Instead since the 1970's Florida requires PIP (personal injury protection), and just $10,000 for your medical treatment regardless of who is at fault.

PIP was supposed to limit lawsuits and lower premiums, but supporters admit its fraud ridden and fueled premium inflation.

Again, this session, Florida lawmakers will consider major reform requiring bodily injury liability coverage of $25,000 per person, replacing PIP.

Without that critics warn some serious crashes could lead to financial hardships.

“There's absolutely no money to pay for the medical bills you incur now and into the future,” Dunaway said.

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The Insurance and hospital associations have opposed reforms, claiming PIP covers uninsured drivers coming into the ER.

“PIP is only $10,000 today and that is still better than nothing when paying medical costs,” said Crystal Stickle with the Florida Hospital Association.

But 48 other states don’t feel that way.

“They need to change the law,” Arens said.

Reforms already passed a state house committee. It faces a tougher fight in the senate where the plan includes bodily injury liability and $5,000 medical coverage for a driver's own injuries.

Most PIP reform studies show it would slow premium rate increases.

The House Insurance and Banking Committee on Tuesday passed with overwhelming support major car insurance reform that could impact every driver. Despite hearing from lots of opponents, they easily passed the bill to repeal personal injury protection.

The measure would replace PIP no-fault insurance with bodily injury coverage. See more in the video below.

Todd Ulrich

Todd Ulrich, WFTV.com

I am WFTV's Action 9 Reporter.