Tallahassee Update

Betty, age 56, was coming home from a trip to the mall when she was rear ended while stopped at a traffic signal. The police came to the scene of the accident and issued a ticket to the other driver. Even though Betty was very sore, and the Police offered to call an ambulance for Betty to take her to the hospital to be checked for injuries, she declined and went home to rest.
A few hours later, there was a knock on the door of her home. At her door was Mike Cheatem, an adjuster for Auto Wreck Insurance, the insurance company for the driver who rear ended her earlier that day. Mr. Cheatem asked Betty how she was feeling, and acknowledged that his insured was at fault for the accident. Mr. Cheatem then told Betty that Auto Wreck Insurance wanted to make sure that all of her medical bills were taken care of if she went to the doctor, so he offered to give her a check for $500.00 – which he proceeded to fill out and hand to her on the spot. He told Betty that she would have to sign a form acknowledging that he had given her money for her bills.
Betty, who had not yet been to see a doctor even though she was feeling kind of sore, thought this sounded great, so she took the money and signed the form.
The next morning when Betty woke up, her neck and back were hurting her very badly, and the fingers on her right hand felt like they were asleep. She called her son, who lived in another state, and told him about the accident and how she was feeling. Her son suggested she go to her doctor, just to be safe.
Five days later, Betty was able to get in to see her doctor. After examining Betty and listening to her complaints, her doctor ordered an MRI of her neck. When the results came in, Betty was informed that she was suffering from a herniated disc in her cervical spine. Her doctor told her that’s why her right hand still felt like it was asleep.
When Betty told a friend about the accident and her injuries, her friend suggested she contact an attorney to learn about her rights. So, seven (7) days after the accident occurred, Betty contacted an attorney to discuss her situation. Unfortunately for Betty, after the attorney learned about her accepting the check from Auto Wreck Insurance, and after obtaining a copy of the form Betty signed, the attorney had to advise Betty that under the facts of her case, he could not help her. Because Betty had signed the release, she could not pursue a claim against the other driver or his insurance company. Despite the severity of Betty’s injuries, Betty had unwittingly settled her claim for $500.00.
Betty’s story is not unusual. In the State of Florida, it happens every day. While an attorney is not permitted to contact a person involved in an accident for 30 days, there is no similar restrictions on insurance companies.
Many insurance companies routinely go to the scene of an accident or to the accident victim’s home shortly thereafter in an attempt to limit their liability and exposure by making a minimal offer to the accident victim and then obtaining full and final release from those persons.
In an effort to prevent this story from continually repeating, I filled HB 1281. This bill would prevent an insurance company which provides bodily injury coverage, uninsured motorist coverage, personal injury protection coverage, medical payments coverage or general liability coverage, from fully and finally settling a claim for at least 30 days after the date the injury occurred. Any settlement or release entered in violation of this section would be unenforceable.
The bill would not prevent an insurance company settling a claim in full IF it was tendering its policy limits nor would the bill prevent an insurance company from advancing funds to an injured person. Additionally, if the person injured has consulted with an attorney and WANTS to settle his/her claim before the 30 days have passed, he/she may do so under the provisions of this bill.
When I filed this bill, my goal was to make sure that Betty, and Floridians like Betty all around this state had the time necessary to make an informed decision about their case. Within a few weeks of the bill being filed, I was visited in my office by a lobbyist representing several liability insurance companies. Not surprisingly, he informed me that his clients would not be able to support my bill, stating that it could cost his clients money because they might have to pay more to settle a claim if the person had a chance to think about their claim, and that many of the cases his clients were able to settle quickly could go into litigation down the road. Too Bad.
Aside from the fact that this bill would provide needed protection to persons injured through no fault of their own, the bill also saves money for you and me, the taxpayers of this state, because once a case is settled, if the injured person goes to a hospital for treatment and has no settlement money to pay the medical bills, who do you think pays them? You and me.
I wish I could report that this bill has moved through all committees and is ready for a vote on the floor of the house. But I can’t. This bill, which was assigned to four committees/councils, has not been scheduled for a hearing in even ONE committee. Guess the insurance lobby is stronger than the consumer lobby.