It’s not often that I use my space on the Dolman Law Blog to directly address content drafted by another blog-writer. Today I make an exception to rebut an article concerning Florida House Bill 587 that was published last week by a large firm that handles insurance defense cases.
Not surprisingly, the writers of the article (insurance defense lawyers for Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell), state that HB 587 will correct injustices toward insurance companies and defendants in personal injury cases. They cite a number of cases when plaintiffs were allowed to present evidence of medical bills that had been negotiated down at the original inflated value. At first glance the article seems to lead consumers to believe that plaintiffs are allowed to recover for inflated medical expenses above and beyond what they are actually paying.
In the pursuit of justice in the courts, I agree that plaintiffs should not be able to recover medical costs that they didn’t actually incur. That is why I am happy that Florida courts have ruled that defendants are entitled to an offset for any medical bills that are negotiated down. In reality a plaintiff cannot recover for inflated medical billing that is negotiated to a lower amount, but the plaintiff is allowed to show how much they incurred in medical bills so that the jury can understand the amount, type, and seriousness of the treatment they received.
The real complaint from insurance defense lawyers, is plaintiffs are allowed to make their case appear stronger to jurors by demonstrating inflated medical bills. They want doctors to be limited in what they are allowed to charge for their business services, so that medical bills don’t create an unfair perception concerning the injuries and damages sustained by the plaintiff. However, their argument is not based in reality. Physicians who render medical services based on a letter of protection (LOP) must offset the risk that they may never be paid by setting their own charges. Physicians who bill health insurance can expect to be paid within ninety (90) days of service. However, an LOP simply ensures that they physician will be paid upon settlement of the personal injury case. There is no guarantee that the case will settle or successfully resolve at trial. Further, it often takes in excess of a year before a claim resolves. Contrast this with the medical provider who can expect to be paid within ninety (90) days, and you will see how unfair this proposed bill is to Florida physicians. Why would any physician accept a usual and customary fee when taking the risk that they may never get paid and often will wait in excess of a year to receive any compensation?
The real agenda is to make treating personal injury victims as cost prohibitive as possible. By forcing elite physicians to turn their respective backs on auto accident victims, cases will be much easier to defend for Florida insurance carriers.
It’s clear that the proponents of this bill are not truly seeking equal justice in the civil court system. It’s completely reasonable for them to attempt to make defending personal injury cases easier and less risky. Insurance companies have successfully lobbied the legislature to mislead juries in many ways.
You may or may not know that it is improper for a plaintiff, or the plaintiff’s attorney to make any mention of the defendant’s (tortfeasor’s) insurance carrier. In Florida, mentioning a defendant’s insurance can result in a mistrial. That means the jurors at a plaintiff’s trial to recover for personal injuries will never know that whether the defendant has insurance. Those same jurors won’t be informed about the protections in Florida limiting an individual’s exposure to personal liability and will also have no idea about how much effort the plaintiff put into attempting to settle the claim without litigation; Florida law won’t allow reference of such isues either. While deliberating about whether to award Jane damages, jurors in personal injury actions have no idea as to whether John does or doesn’t have insurance. As a result jurors are significantly more likely to be sympathetic to a defendant because they are misled to believe that the defendant will be personally responsible for paying the bill at the end.
In reality, the opinion expressed in the Rumberger blog misses the point of Florida House Bill 587. This bill is a thinly-veiled attempt by the insurance lobby (and state senators loyal to them) to limit the availability of prominent doctors to plaintiffs in personal injury actions. If highly-respected doctors are limited to billing at the same rate as less qualified physicians when they accept letters of protection (LOP), they will have no incentive to render services to auto accident victims. When a doctor accepts an LOP, he or she is taking a risk that the personal injury case will have a negative outcome and is agreeing to postpone payment for services indefinitely. Currently, these serious risks are balanced by the physicians’ ability to collect more for services rendered than in normal managed care cases.
If HB 587 passes and limits medical providers to a fee schedule, the best physicians will cease treating auto accident victims and be more available to the insurance carriers. Personal Injury cases will be prejudiced to the extent that recovery for injuries caused by someone else’s negligence may become a thing of the past. Plaintiffs will be limited to using lower quality doctors for their medical care, and will lose more cases. This will result in lower (if any) settlement offers from insurers and massive profit hikes to Allstate, State Farm and the rest.
Automobile collision victims have a right to recover for the damage that they incur. If you or someone that you love has ever been injured in an accident, then you are aware of the difficulty that you will face in attempting to recover for your losses. The personal injury lawyers at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA take pride in the fact that we work for individuals and never for the insurers. We dedicate ourselves to representing the people of Florida. Demand that your State Legislature show that same dedication and shoot down this destructive bill.