Florida Coalition Fights Car Accident Fraud

John Egan

A new coalition of consumer, business and law enforcement groups is taking on car insurance fraud in Florida.

Among the 12 groups that compose Gear Up Florida are the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Florida Police Chiefs Association and Florida Sheriffs Association. The coalition wants Florida lawmakers to pass legislation that would crack down on car accident fraud.

Critics say loopholes in Florida's no-fault car insurance law allows criminals to take advantage of a system designed to provide medical care to drivers and passengers who are legitimately injured in car accidents, regardless of who's at fault. Florida leads the nation in staged car accidents and questionable car insurance claims.

No-fault coverage also is known as personal injury protection (PIP). Florida law requires that a driver carry at least $10,000 in PIP coverage.

Primarily because of PIP fraud, officials say, Floridians pay 56 percent more than motorists in other states for car insurance – an average of $736 in Florida compared with $471 nationwide.

“Undercover investigations have revealed that many participants in staged accidents were part of a larger group and that the staged crash was just the first step in the overall scheme,” Steve Casey, executive director of the Florida Sheriffs Association, says in a news release. “PIP fraud used to be more of an individual crime and now has become an organized crime.”

The coalition recommends Florida lawmakers look at:

• Allowing more time (30 to 60 days) for investigation of suspicious insurance claims.

• Limiting attorneys’ fees to reduce the incentive for unnecessary or drawn-out litigation.

• Placing more scrutiny on medical clinics that treat people who have filed PIP claims.

• Establishing guidelines to prevent excessive, unnecessary medical treatment for PIP patients.

Florida's 2012 legislative session starts Jan. 10.

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