ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - In a last-minute jousting session in the Florida Senate in March, lawmakers finally approved the personal injury protection reform to cut down on car insurance fraud.
Lawmakers were trying to stop staged car accidents where criminals bilk insurance companies, but Channel 9’s Jamie Holmes found out the reform won't save Florida drivers much, because attorneys are still collecting big paydays.
PIP stands for "personal injury protection "or coverage for medical bills after an accident. It is paid in your car insurance bills, which have recently gone up.
The average driver in Orlando now pays 58 percent more for their PIP insurance than they did two years ago, and insurance industry analysts said recent PIP reform in the state legislature did little to actually lower bills.
“It didn't address that issue,” said Lynne McChristian of the Insurance Information Institute. “The real issue costing you money (is) lawsuits.”
Insurance companies in Florida were sued more than 15,000 times last year, Holmes said.
“We are sued multiple times a day. Fifty to 100 lawsuits a day,” said State Farm PIP Manager Brooke Teplitz.
Only 2 percent of the lawsuits are coming from drivers. The rest are coming from attorneys on behalf of medical centers or pain clinics. And WFTV has found lawsuits over very small sums of money over and over again.
In one case in Volusia County, a lawsuit was filed against State Farm to collect $200. Attorneys in the case, however, were awarded more than $39,000.
“Well, that makes no sense, and any logical person would say that is not right,” said McChristian.
It is up to a judge to determine how much an attorney gets paid, but in the Volusia case, it took five attorneys 150 hours at $250 an hour, Holmes said.
In another case, an Orlando attorney sued over $1,300 and was awarded $77,000.
There is no cap in Florida for the amount an attorney can collect. Average attorney fees for a lawsuit in the state are now $60,000, which is almost 60 times more than the average amount being disputed in the first place.
And industry officials said unless there is a change, your insurance bill will continue to help fund attorney's fees.
Insurance companies typically go to court because if they settle, it could cost them much more in future claims. Legislators, meanwhile, did put an end to attorney multipliers in which lawyers were allowed to double their hourly rate.