Florida drivers said to pay $1 billion more in auto insurance because of staged crashes

5:08 PM, Jan 25, 2012   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Accident fraud is costing Florida drivers nearly an extra billion dollars a year in their personal injury protection insurance rates, according to Gov. Rick Scott. He's helping lead the push to reform the state's PIP system.

Gov. Scott was fired up Wednesday as he spoke to supporters of insurance reform at the state Capitol. He argued the higher insurance rates resulting from fraud are like a tax. It's estimated Florida drivers pay 56 percent higher auto rates compared to other states.

Personal injury protection rates have been climbing about 30 percent a year in Florida even though there's been a 12 percent reduction in car crashes over the past five years.

Police blame drivers in organized crime groups for staging accidents and then running up medical bills to the $10,000 limit allowed by the state's no-fault law.

Gov. Scott urged the crowd to put the pressure on lawmakers to pass reform legislation.

"This is how laws get changed. You show up and you let your legislators know what you want. You are sick and tired of a billion dollars a year of fraud. You're tired of it. You're tired of scammers taking advantage of you. You're tired of attorneys taking advantage of you. Enough is enough. A billion dollars a year. We need to change this."

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater joined Scott at the rally. He said drivers with great driving records are getting hammered by rising auto premiums and that's not fair.

"A 40-year-old, perfect driving record, in Jacksonville, Florida in the last two years, 40 percent increase in their PIP coverage. Orlando, 58 percent. Miami, 80 percent. Tampa Bay, 81 percent."

Cydnee Knoth of Tampa expressed frustration at seeing her auto insurance continually go up even though she's a good driver.

"Every year I see my insurance rates go up on my auto insurance and, despite my excellent driving record, the rates go up every year. Listed on my driver's license is 'good driver.' I have been affected by PIP and my son has been affected by PIP. We need to have this changed."

The Florida Chamber of Commerce calls PIP reform legislation its top priority this year. David Hart says the legislation must crack down on staged accidents, fraudulent claims and attorneys' fees.

"Honest Florida families and businesses continue to take the brunt of this unresolved billion dollar problem. Florida cannot wait any longer for relief from the expense of fraud and litigation abuse in the PIP system. The time for PIP reform is now."

The business lobby group Associated Industries of Florida is also backing reforms.

"Sadly, Florida is number one in fraud among any of the 50 states. It's time for Florida to take serious and permanent action to help its Florida consumers and its Florida businesses," said AIF President and CEO Tom Feeney.

A House committee Wednesday passed a bill that cracks down on PIP fraud by a 10 to 5 vote. The measure still faces two more committee votes before it can head to the House floor.

Opponents of the House bill contend it would restrict people's choices on which doctors they want to see, as well as the timeline for their treatment.

A group called the Florida Consumer Action Network says the Senate's version is better because it looks out more for consumers.

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