Articles Posted in Insurance Law

Pie-Chart-300x246Liability insurance carriers pursue every avenue to limit the amounts they must pay in damages to harmed parties. One avenue at their disposal is Florida Statute 768.76(1):

In any action to which this part applies in which liability is admitted or is determined by the trier of fact and in which damages are awarded to compensate the claimant for losses sustained, the court shall reduce the amount of such award by the total of all amounts which have been paid for the benefit of the claimant, or which are otherwise available to the claimant, from all collateral sources; however, there shall be no reduction for collateral sources for which a subrogation or reimbursement right exists.

768.76(2)(a) defines “Collateral sources” as follows:

(a) “Collateral sources” means any payments made to the claimant, or made on the claimant’s behalf, by or pursuant to:

1. The United States Social Security Act, except Title XVIII and Title XIX; any federal, state, or local income disability act; or any other public programs providing medical expenses, disability payments, or other similar benefits, except those prohibited by federal law and those expressly excluded by law as collateral sources.
2. Any health, sickness, or income disability insurance; automobile accident insurance that provides health benefits or income disability coverage; and any other similar insurance benefits, except life insurance benefits available to the claimant, whether purchased by her or him or provided by others.
3. Any contract or agreement of any group, organization, partnership, or corporation to provide, pay for, or reimburse the costs of hospital, medical, dental, or other health care services.
4. Any contractual or voluntary wage continuation plan provided by employers or by any other system intended to provide wages during a period of disability.
Interestingly, under 768.76(2)(b), “Medicare, or any other federal program providing for a Federal Government lien on or right of reimbursement from the plaintiff’s recovery, the Workers’ Compensation Law, the Medicaid program of Title XIX of the Social Security Act or from any medical services program administered by the Department of Health shall not be considered a collateral source.”

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motorwayThe law disfavors windfall recoveries and insurance carriers are always seeking to be the beneficiaries of this public policy. One way carriers seek to benefit from this policy is by reducing jury verdicts by amounts recovered in damages from other sources. This is known as “Setoff.”

Uninsured and underinsured motor vehicle coverage is an optional form of insurance provided in motor vehicle insurance policies “for the protection of persons insured thereunder who are legally entitled to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles because of bodily injury, sickness, or disease, including death, resulting therefrom.” Section 627.727(1), Florida Statutes.

The statutory section contains the following setoff language:

Joanis-300x263What began as a product liability investigation, ended in a $2,000,000 personal injury settlement against the owner of an altered riding lawnmower (pictured).

Our client lost his right leg when run over by the lawnmower he was operating for his employer. Initially thinking that the mower was owned by the employer, which would give the employer workers’ compensation immunity, we set our sights on a product liability case as the only way to secure a civil remedy for our client.

We quickly discovered that any products liability case was barred by Florida’s Statute of Repose. We also learned that our accident was caused by a post-manufacture alteration to a safety feature.

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P1010047-300x225We recently resolved a case involving a reimbursement dispute under an Occupational Health & Disability Insurance Policy. Our client, an independent trucker, had sustained catastrophic injuries from being struck by a motor vehicle as he was changing a tire while parked in a gore on I-95 in Florida. He was hospitalized in intensive care and was unable to return to work for nearly two years. Thankfully, he was covered under the insurance policy, which paid his medical bills and lost wages.

The insurance policy contained language entitling the carrier to be reimbursed in full from any money our client was paid as a result of the accident.

We sued two individuals and a company seeking damage compensation for our client. After litigating the case for more than three years, we secured a reasonable settlement. We held the money in trust pending resolution of the Occupational Health & Disability Insurance carrier’s reimbursement claim. Unable to work out the claim amicably, we filed a petition to resolve the claim with the court that handled the underlying personal injury case. (Anticipating problems in resolving the reimbursement claim amicably, we asked the court to retain jurisdiction for that eventuality. Doing so allowed us to keep a smart judge and avoid a new filing fee.)

The policy contained the following language: “The Policy is governed by the laws of the jurisdiction in which it is delivered.”

The insurance carrier was home based in another state and the policy was made available to large companies throughout the United States who used independent drivers like our client, through a trust company based in Washington, DC. The carrier argued that Washington, DC law applied to the reimbursement claim since the policy was delivered to the trust in DC. Under DC law, the terms of the policy would control. This would effectively enable the carrier to recover 100% of the underlying settlement without our client netting anything. (The underlying case had exceedingly difficult liability issues. The most at-fault person, who was intoxicated, had no insurance and died penniless before we got the case. We ended up suing a separate company, which was responsible for highway assistance, for failing to have proper warning lights on its vehicle. We received a sizeable settlement, but the amount paid by the OH&D carrier was more sizeable.)

We argued that Florida law, in particular, Florida Statute 768.76(4), applied to the reimbursement dispute. Under this statute, the court would be allowed to reduce the reimbursement amount owed by taking various equitable factors into consideration including procurement costs and comparing the settlement amount to the full value of the case. See Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. // Resolving Health and Disability Insurance Liens in Personal Injury Cases Under Florida Statute 768.76. 

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Uber-300x145Riders and operators of Uber and Lyft rides will be surprised to learn that they are barely covered by insurance or not covered at all for economic losses and personal injuries resulting from crashes caused by uninsured and underinsured motorists.

Florida Statute 627.748 outlines the insurance requirements for Transportation Network Companies (“TNC”) such as Uber and Lyft. When the TNC driver is logged on to the digital network but is not engaged in a prearranged ride, the insurance coverage requirements are:

  • $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person,
  • $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident,
  • $25,000 for property damage, 
  • Personal injury protection benefits, and
  • Uninsured and underinsured vehicle coverage (“UM/UIM”).

When the TNC driver is engaged in a prearranged ride, defined in 627.748(1)(b) as “when a TNC driver accepts a ride requested by a rider through a digital network controlled by a transportation network company, continuing while the TNC driver transports the rider, and ending when the last rider exits from and is no longer occupying the TNC vehicle,” the coverage limits above are bumped up to “at least $1 million for death, bodily injury, and property damage.”

Of the five varieties of coverage required by the statute, only the first four in the list above are mandatory. Uninsured and underinsured vehicle coverage, which is for the protection of persons insured under bodily injury policies who are legally entitled to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles because of bodily injury, sickness, or disease, including death, can be rejected by the “insured named in the policy” on behalf of all insureds under the policy. Section 627.727(1), Florida Statutes.

While the TNC statute, 627.748, leaves it up to the companies or the drivers to secure the required coverage, the reality is that the companies secure the coverage. This makes the companies “the insured named in the policy” authorized to reject the UM/UIM. Since UM/UIM adds to the cost of the insurance policy, TNC companies typically reject the coverage (Lyft) or select limits lower than the required BI limits (Uber). (627.727(1) allows insureds to reject altogether or select limits lower than the BI limits. Hence, Uber is able to select $10,000 in UM/UIM coverage even though its BI is $50,000/$100,000 or $1,000,000.)

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car-insurance-policyMotor vehicle insurance companies are expert at finding ways of denying coverage under policies. The successful denial of coverage can leave the insured with significant burdens.

The successful denial of coverage in Geico Indemnity Co. v. Walker, Case No. 4D20-764 (Fla. 4th DCA May 12, 2021), is a cautionary tale for Floridians, as the circumstances underlying the denial are exceedingly common.

In Walker, the Geico insured was the driver in a single-vehicle crash that killed him and his passenger. The passenger’s estate filed a wrongful death action against the insured. Geico denied coverage under the driver’s policy because the subject vehicle was not a listed vehicle on its policy. With respect to the incident, Geico asserted that the subject vehicle did not meet the definition of an owned, non-owned, or temporary substitute vehicle.

Following Geico’s denial, the two estates entered into a settlement agreement whereby damages would be determined by arbitration and the driver’s estate would assign its right to sue Geico for breach of duty to defend and to indemnify. The arbitration resulted in an arbitration award of $7,722,150 in total damages for the passenger’s wrongful death claim against the driver.

The case we are discussing is the appeal from the passenger’s lawsuit against Geico facilitated by the assignment. At the trial court level, it was established that the vehicle operated by the Geico insured was a 1992 Porsche, made available to the driver by the owner, his stepfather, to use and take care of for ten years without specific restrictions. The Porsche was not listed under the Geico policy as an insured vehicle. Instead, the vehicle was listed in the stepfather’s automobile insurance policy with Allstate, which also listed the driver as an insured driver on that policy.

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dollarsIt is common for health and disability (lost wages) insurance companies to pay benefits to their insureds who have been injured through the negligence of others. Most of the insurance policies contain language granting the insurance company a right of reimbursement for the money it has paid out from the proceeds recovered by the insured in the personal injury case for the same losses.

How much must be repaid depends on policy language and who is paying the settlement or judgment in the personal injury case.

Many of the insurance policies provide that the carrier has the right to be reimbursed in full up to the amount recovered in the liability case before the insured and the insured’s attorney receive penny one. When the compensation is paid by a tortfeasor, who is the person or entity responsible for causing the harm, reimbursement is determined by the formula set forth in  section 768.76(4), Florida Statutes. The statutory formula applies even where the insurance policy calls for full reimbursement to the carrier first. In Ingenix v. Ham, 35 So.3d 949 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2010), Gerald Ham’s health insurer, UnitedHealthcare, paid almost all of Ham’s medical bills relating to a medical procedure that ultimately resulted in his death. After settling with the medical providers (i.e., tortfeasors) in a medical malpractice lawsuit, Ham’s estate contended that it was only required to reimburse UnitedHealthcare a reduced amount according to the formula set out in section 768.76(4), Florida Statutes (2008). UnitedHealthcare took the position that it was entitled to full reimbursement in accordance with the language of its policy. The court held that section 768.76(4) controlled, limiting UnitedHealthcare’s reimbursement to the formula under section 768.76(4).

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UBER-EATS-167x300We represent a young man who was severely injured in a roadway accident while making a delivery for Uber Eats. He was struck by a phantom motor vehicle (i.e., unidentified vehicle) while riding his bicycle and left to die by the side of the road. He was discovered and transported to Ryder Trauma Center, where he underwent emergency surgery including a craniotomy. Part of his skull has been permanently replaced by a metal plate.

Uber Eats has denied him all benefits.

Uber claims that its Florida operators are independent contractors. Because true independent contractors are not employees, they are not entitled to Florida workers’ compensation benefits (see 440.02(15)(d)). Workers’ compensation would cover medical and indemnity (i.e., wages) benefits. Our young client, who was a senior in high school when this event happened, has received neither through Uber, a multi-billion dollar company. Nothing. Zero. Zilch.

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bankruptcy-300x300Every citizen of this state should know that the only thing compelling personal injury liability insurance companies to voluntarily pay claims is the threat of being sued for bad faith.

Liability insurance companies have a legal obligation to act in the best interests of their insureds. Boston Old Colony Ins. Co. v. Gutierrez, 386 So.2d 783 (Fla. 1980) (An insurer who assumes the defense of the insured also assumes a duty to act in good faith and with due regard to the interests of the insured.) More specifically, in actions by third parties against the insured, the insurer must act in good faith and be diligent in its effort to negotiate a settlement within policy limits. Auto Mutual Indemnity Co. v. Shaw, 134 Fla. 815, 184 So. 852 (1938). If the carrier fails to do so and a final judgment is entered against its insured for an amount in excess of the policy limit, in a subsequent bad faith action the carrier may be forced to satisfy the excess judgment and pay attorney’s fees and costs. The excess can be many multiples of the policy limit, sometimes in the millions of dollars. The reasoning behind bad faith jurisprudence is that the carrier, by failing to adjust the claim in good faith, has exposed its policyholder to an otherwise avoidable financial burden.

Insurance carriers want to believe that Chapter 7 discharges extinguish their bad faith liability because the insured is not harmed by or liable for the excess verdict. In Camp v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 616 So.2d 12 (Fla., 1993), the Florida Supreme Court ruled otherwise.

There are three types of bankruptcies, Chapter 7, 11, and 13.

  • Chapter 7. This chapter of the Bankruptcy Code involves liquidation” – the sale of a debtor’s nonexempt property and the distribution of the proceeds to creditors.
  • Chapter 11. This chapter of the Bankruptcy Code generally provides for reorganization, usually involving a corporation or partnership. A chapter 11 debtor usually proposes a plan of reorganization to keep its business alive and pay creditors over time. People in business or individuals can also seek relief in chapter 11.
  • Chapter 13. This chapter of the Bankruptcy Code provides for adjustment of debts of an individual with regular income. Chapter 13 allows a debtor to keep property and pay debts over time, usually three to five years.

Camp involved a medical malpractice case where the injured party obtained a three million dollar verdict after the the carrier failed to settle the case for the defendant doctor’s $250,000 insurance policy limit. Before the verdict was rendered, the defendant doctor filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This put an automatic stay on the malpractice proceedings. While the case was under the stay order, the bankruptcy court granted a discharge that shielded the doctor from personal liability for any claims pending against him as of the date of his bankruptcy filing. Thereafter, the bankruptcy court authorized Camp, the injured party, to proceed with her lawsuit for the purpose of liquidating her claim in the bankruptcy case. (She requested relief from the stay by filing a motion under Bankruptcy Rules 4001 and 9014, showing cause as specified in 11 U.S.C. Sec. 362(d).) At the same time, however, the bankruptcy court specifically ruled that the doctor would be not be personally liable for any judgment Camp obtained against him in her state court lawsuit.

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massage-200x300Personal Injury Protection (PIP) is mandatory insurance coverage for Florida motor vehicle owners. It covers a limited amount of medical expenses and lost wages, typically $10,000 total.

The PIP statute,  s. 627.736, is particular as to which types of medical providers may seek reimbursement. In Geico General Insurance Co. v. Beacon Healthcare Center, Inc. (Fla. 3rd DCA; opinion filed February 26, 2020), the court confirmed that “a person who is licensed as a massage therapist, but not licensed as a physical therapist,” may not be reimbursed by PIP.

A number of GEICO insureds sought treatment at Beacon Healthcare Center, Inc. During their initial consultations, the treating physician (and Beacon’s medical director) prescribed therapy modalities that were provided by massage therapists who held massage therapy licenses, but did not hold licenses in physical therapy. The massage therapists were not directly supervised on site by either a licensed physical therapist or by a medical physician when they performed the treatments.

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