Posts Tagged ‘automobile insurance’

What do Florida PIP claimants like to do? Sue, sue, sue.

Monday, July 14th, 2014

If you are wondering where your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) premiums go, look no further than the courthouse. More than half of Florida individuals and clinics hire lawyers to pursue insurance claims.

Those attorneys charge $300 to $500 an hour to fill out paperwork and shuttle it to the clerk of court. The lawyers then ask county court judges to approve their legal bills and order insurance companies to pay them. Sometimes, the lawyers who say they are working for the little guy collect tens of thousands of dollars when the client is seeking is a few dollars.

The percentage of PIP claimants nationwide represented by attorneys rose to 36 percent in 2012 from 31 percent in 2007, according to a study by the Insurance Research Council. It comes as no surprise to us or another auto insurer that Florida leads the nation, where more than half of claimants hired attorneys in 2012.

“The attorney involvement trends shown in this study undercut two of the envisioned benefits of no-fault auto injury systems: a less adversarial settlement process and more timely payments,”  Elizabeth Sprinkel, senior vice president of the council said in a press release. “The role of attorneys is implicated in many of the factors driving up the cost of auto insurance.”

The study found that in cases where attorneys represented claimants that individuals were much more likely than those without a lawyer to receive treatment in a pain clinic and were more likely to be involved in apparent claim abuse.

PIP fraud investigations have found that people involved in staged accidents and other illegal efforts to cheat the PIP system signed over their benefits to the clinic that was supposedly diagnosing and treating them. The clinics hired attorneys to sue auto insurance companies when the claims were investigated and sometimes denied.

The study was part of the council’s continuing research into auto injury claims. More than 35,000 auto injury claims were examined and 12 insurers that represent 52 percent of personal driver market participated.

 

 

Auto accident fraud happens in ways you do not expect

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) fraud cases are common in Florida. Sadly, sometimes the police hide what truly happened in an accident. Kudos to the honest cops and one of our adjusters for uncovering the truth and correcting an injustice.

Three police officers in Medly, a town in Miami-Dade County, have been fired for covering up who was to blame in an auto accident. A Medley police officer crashed his unmarked car into a mini-van that was turning left at an intersection. To a video of the accident, click here.

The van’s driver, Leovigildo Bravo Fraga, was charged with failing to yield right of way and drunk driving, according to the Miami Herald. However, Hialeah police called in to assist in the case discovered that Fraga, 49, was completely sober.

Later, our UAIC insurance adjuster “noticed that Medley police reports and scene photos did not jibe with the evidence: The Medley cop, not Fraga, was at fault in the accident,” the Herald reported. A video from the scene also showed Fraga was not to blame.

The Medley police department has fired three officers, saying they wrote false police reports and committed other misconduct. They have responded with a lawsuit against the city.

The greatest victim in all of this is the innocent driver, just as it is when PIP fraud is committed. The Medley police released Fraga, but charged him with causing the crash. Fraga’s car was towed; he paid $151 to retrieve it. Fraga told the Herald that his driver’s license has been suspended, his car is damaged, and no has paid him anything.

As often happens with PIP fraud, false insurance claims helped authorities discover the lies. The investigation found that the acting police chief broke Medley rules by filing the report directly with the department’s insurance company, not with the town’s legal department.

The UAIC adjuster noticed that Romero’s claim did not match the accident report and photos. When our company denied the claim, the Medley police chief’s office asked the Hialeah police to investigate.

2011: The year of action on PIP fraud

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

What does 2011 hold for efforts to fight personal injury protection (PIP) fraud in Florida?

Lots.

And Florida residents can help in the PIP fraud clean-up by supporting the Chief Financial Officer and the dedicated investigators and prosecutors of his Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF).

CFO Jeff Atwater recently said he will be seeking tough sentences for perpetrators who try to rip-off the system. Now we get word from the Florida’s director of the division of insurance fraud that a new PIP squad has been added in Tampa to crack down on what’s ranked the worst region in the United States for PIP fraud.

“There is no shortage of criminals who seek to commit fraud at every opportunity,” writes director John Askins in his division’s January 2011 newsletter.” The dedicated law enforcement officers at DIF are determined to do their best to investigate and arrest them.”

The division has also hired a senior attorney in Miami to coordinate efforts and improve results in prosecutions. In addition, the division “is working for legislation that will eliminate loopholes used by accident clinics,” Askins writes in the newsletter. “We are asking for additional dedicated prosecutors to help us send more of these criminals to jail.”

How can Floridians help? By writing urging legislators to vote for legislation that would crack down on the PIP fraud that keeps pushing insurance premiums higher and higher. Legislators should also fund, even in these tough economic times, staffing to chase down and lock up PIP fraudsters.

The auto insurance industry is doing its part in 2011. The International Association of Special Investigation Units, a non-profit organization funded by insurers, is educating insurers on how to spot PIP fraud and helping law enforcement officials with their investigations.

Insurers are putting more than money into the effort to fight PIP fraud. Ohio Farmers Insurance Company has donated a car to DIF that it can use in undercover surveillance along the west coast of the state. The car will help law enforcement officials uncover the PIP fraud rings that are rampant that region.

Sun-Sentinel shines light on how plaintiff attorneys abuse PIP

Monday, January 17th, 2011

The Sun-Sentinel has exposed how Florida’s plaintiff attorneys exploit Personal Injury Protection (PIP) lawsuits in a front-page investigative report published Jan.16.

The Fort Lauderdale-based newspaper shows that plaintiff PIP lawyers collect huge court fees for themselves and force all drivers to pay higher insurance premiums.

We thank the Sun-Sentinel for exposing attorneys who abuse the legal system. The public needs to know that their PIP insurance premiums are going to pay off greedy plaintiff lawyers.

The lengthy article and accompanying stories document how plaintiff lawyers have charged as much as $500 an hour while arguing in court that their clients were due as little as 1 cent.

“Lawyers and other people in this field have found ways to make some money here,” the article quoted Florida Deputy Insurance Commissioner Belinda Miller as saying. “The lawsuits are increasing because this has become a fairly well-oiled machine on the side of the people that bring those cases, and it’s lucrative.”

How lucrative? The Sun-Sentinel uncovered a PIP lawsuit against UAIC in which a Miami-Dade attorney received $13,370 in fees while winning only $2.53 for his client. UAIC appealed and won.

Another lawyer collected just $2,000 for his client and took home $160,000 for himself in a PIP lawsuit, the article reported.

It’s our view that plaintiff attorneys are running PIP mills. The article says one attorney in Broward County has filed 3,300 lawsuits in 5 years. Those numbers are ridiculous.

The article also found that Gulfstream Medigroup of Palm Beach Gardens had filed almost 1,200 PIP lawsuits through early November, and that attorney Brian LaBovick owns Gulfstream while having his law firm handle the lawsuits.

LaBovick is essentially double-dipping, we think, putting court awards in one pocket and legal fees in the other.

The rising costs from PIP lawsuits and big attorney fees are hurting Florida drivers, the Sun-Sentinel article said.

“The cost of this coverage is going up,” deputy insurance commissioner Miller told the newspaper. “I think it’s going to be hard to keep insurance affordable to everybody.”

We say it’s time to do something about the problem. When the legislature meets in March, it must pass laws that give drivers much-needed financial relief.

Investigations manager at UAIC to participate in PIP roundtable

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Blanca Aparicio, manager of the special investigation unit at United Automobile Insurance Corporation, will be featured in a roundtable discussion on personal injury protection (PIP) fraud on Aug. 4, 2010. Florida insurance companies and drivers lose millions of dollars each year from fraudulent claims submitted by drivers, passengers and medical centers. State regulators and local police have devoted task forces to uncovering the fraud and breaking up criminal rings.

Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw will host the discussion on ways to curb fraudulent activities, improve the claims process, and ensure that the licensure of health care clinics is adequate. The goal is to ensure that PIP coverage remains a cost-effective means for Floridians to receive medical treatment for minor injuries and to help control automobile insurance rates.

The roundtable on Aug. 4 will be held from 9 a.m. to noon and again from 1 p.m. to approximately 4 p.m.  The event will be held in the Florida House of Representatives’ Committee Room 404, House Office Building. A copy of the agenda is posted on the Insurance Consumer Advocate’s website.

Those unable to attend can watch the round table at the Florida Channel’s website or by listening via conference at (888) 808-6959, Conference Code: 4132880.

Also participating in the roundtable are:

  • Rep. Bryan Nelson, Apopka, Insurance, Business & Financial Affairs Policy Committee
  • Dr. Barry Burak, Affiliated Healthcare Centers Inc.
  • Deborah J. Cunningham, Manager, Florida Special Investigations Unit, Nationwide, Allied, Titan, & Victoria Insurance Companies
  • Attorney Kenneth J. Dorchak of Buchalter, Hoffman & Dorchak, North Miami
  • Kim Driggers, Esq., Assistant General Counsel, Florida Chiropractic Association
  • Attorney Scott W. Dutton of Dutton Law Group, Tampa
  • Wade Fairchild, PIP Claim Process Specialist, Allstate
  • Ralph Glatfelter, Florida Hospital Association
  • Howard Goldblatt, Director of Government Affairs, Coalition Against Insurance Fraud
  • Dr. Gary Kompothecras, Physicians Group LLC, Sarasota
  • Belinda Miller, Deputy Insurance Commissioner Property & Casualty Insurance, Office of Insurance Regulation
  • Tracy T. Pickard, Director of Special Investigations, Direct General Insurance
  • Chris Shakib, Terrell Hogan Law Firm, Jacksonville
  • Dr. Todd Sussman, C.D., Total Healthcare of Florida, Weston
  • Capt. Steven Smith, Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, Operations and Investigations, Miami-Dade Region
  • Jessica Turner, Special Investigations Manager, Farmers Insurance Group
  • Attorney Johnny Moore, Deputy Insurance Consumer Advocate, Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate
  • R. Terry Butler, Senior Attorney, Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate
  • Reamonn Soto, FAMU Intern, Academy of Leadership and Excellence Program, Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate

Suspicious accidents, PIP claims soar in Florida, National Insurance Crime Bureau says

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

The number of suspicious auto accidents that were staged or deliberately caused by criminals in Florida has increased dramatically in the past year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). The independent organization said on June 29, 2010, the number of questionable claims submitted to its insurance company members shows a 58 percent jump from 2008 to 2009.

This comes to no surprise to those of us at United Automobile Insurance Co. (UAIC) who fight insurance fraud every day. We see fake accidents and fake injuries all the time.

The report, shows the following trends in Florida:

  • Tampa had 487 questionable claims related to staged or caused accidents in 2009, a 290 percent increase over the previous year.
  • Miami had 258 questionable claims, an 11 percent increase year to year.
  • Orlando had 240 questionable claims, a 24 percent increase.

South Florida was the hotbed of staged crashes, according to the bureau. While the Miami and Hialeah areas continue to show increased activity, criminals have moved north and Tampa Bay is now the center of this crime trend.

The number of questionable claims for all insurance fraud increased 15 percent from 2008 to 2009 in Florida. But the 58 percent jump in the staged accident category shows that criminals are taking advantage of the state’s no-fault auto accident coverage, the bureau said. Florida had the highest rates of fraud in both bodily injury and personal injury protection among states with no-fault insurance.

We have been telling legislators, regulators and law enforcement officials for years that Florida is the epicenter of PIP fraud. Now we have the numbers to back that up.

To combat the problem, the bureau created a task force in South Florida in 2002. The success of the program pushed criminals to Tampa and Orlando areas. Staying in pursuit, the bureau will soon open another major medical fraud task force in Tampa.

The bureau has launched a public awareness campaign in the Tampa Bay area, using billboard and bus shelter ads, as well as radio spots to urge people who suspect a staged accident scheme to call 1-800-TEL-NICB or text their information to TIP411, keyword “fraud.”

We urge every driver in the Tampa Bay area and around the state to report fraud when you see it. You will be bringing criminals to justice and could see your insurance premiums drop if we all do enough to stamp out fake claims.

South Florida plaintiff attorneys rack up big hourly fees

Monday, February 8th, 2010

South Florida’s county courts have become the home of the big payday for attorneys who file lawsuits related to personal injury protection (PIP) claims. An analysis of court records by United Automobile Insurance Company (UAIC) shows that a couple of lawyers in Miami-Dade County now command $500 an hour for filing legal paperwork. In Broward County, a dozen attorneys get paid $400 an hour for lawsuits.

The hourly rates put some attorneys on the same level as South Florida lawyers who perform multimillion-dollar mergers or handle sales on properties worth tens of millions of dollars. The difference: PIP lawyers sometimes sue for as little as $2.59 for their clients. And in many instances, the lawsuits seek payment on medical treatment related to a fender bender.

Plaintiff attorneys in PIP cases have turned consumer protection into a professional money machine. Time and time again firms like UAIC object in court to these fees because ultimately all drivers pay those expenses. Sadly, not enough judges can be convinced that these fees are out of line.

The UAIC fee study found that about 39 Miami-Dade attorneys have obtained the OK from county judges to charge $400, or more, per hour. Another 48 attorneys received $300 to $375 an hour. (See list below.)

The situation is similar in Broward County. There, UAIC found 15 lawyers who had received court approval to charge $400 an hour when they filed lawsuits related to PIP claims. Another 25 lawyers received $300 to $375 an hour. (See list below.)

Even if the lawsuit is for a small amount, an attorney will sometimes bill 100 hours or more and judges will award them $35,000 to $45,000, UAIC found. The county courts have a jurisdictional limit of $15,000, yet judges will freely award attorneys fees well in excess of this amount.

UAIC has seen fee awards in PIP cases in excess of $100,000 when the benefits recovered were only a couple thousand of dollars. This phenomenon of inexplicable attorney fee awards has fueled the fraud and abuse that permeates the PIP system.

** HOURLY BILLING RATES FOR ATTORNEYS IN MIAMI-DADE COUNTY COURT**

Miami-Dade attorneys, hourly rate: $500.00

Marlene Reiss

Michael L. Silverstein

Miami-Dade attorneys, hourly rate: $475.00

Bernard H. Butts, Jr.

Miami-Dade attorneys, hourly rate: $450.00

Bartram Billbrough

Carlos A. Lopez

Michael I. Libman

Stuart L. Koenigsberg

Virginia Best

Miami-Dade attorneys, hourly rate: $425.00

Amado A. Alvarez

Gary A. Friedman

John S. Seligman

Michael Feldman

Juan Montes

Kevin Whitehead

Marc Goldman

Michael Feldman

Stuart B. Yanofsky

Miami-Dade attorneys, hourly rate: $400.00

Daniel L. Kaufman

DeWayne Terry

Gabriel Sanchez

Anthony L. Tolgyesi

Brian Rodier

Carlos A. Lopez-Albear

Jacinto Gonzalez

Jeannie Jontiff

Jose Iglesia

Kenneth B. Shurr

Kenneth Dorchak

Kevin Whitehead

Mari Sampedro-Iglesia

Mark D. Feinstein

Mark Feldman

Richard E. Doherty

Rina Kaplan

Robert A. Trilling

Russel Lazega

Scott Jontiff

Steven Singer

Stuart B. Yanofsky

Miami-Dade attorneys, hourly rate: $375.00

Fernando F. Freire

Frank Allocca

Frederick W. Hoethke

Gregg Pessin

James D. Payer

Jeffrey S. Altman

Jon Freeman

Jonathan Friedland

Martin Berger

Michael Kaplan

Michael Leader

Neil Gonzalez

Sadie Naveo

Spencer Morgan

Thomas J. Morgan

Todd Landau

Valerie Manno

Miami-Dade attorneys, hourly rate: $350.00

Lourdes Alvarez

Donald Kerner

Armando Brana

Christian Carrazana

Cornel D. Williams

Dagmar Llaudy

George A. David

Gladys Cardenas

Ivan M. Tobias

Jeffrey G. Hess

John C. Llarena

Julie Terry

Kevin D. Mercer

Lisa Sanders

Lisa-Ann Gordon

Peter DePrimo

R. Brian Boyd

Rita Baez

Robert Seitz

Stephen A. Cameron

Stephen S. Nuell

Todd Link

Miami-Dade attorneys, hourly rate: $310.00 to $325.00

Sebastian Lissa

Kertch J. Conze

Travis Greene

Eric Shapiro

Miami-Dade attorneys, hourly rate: $300.00

Craig Blinderman

Deborah A. Green

Jose A. Yanez

Meena M. Lopez

Patricia Saintvil-Joseph

** HOURLY BILLING RATES FOR ATTORNEYS IN BROWARD COUNTY COURT**

Broward attorneys, hourly rate: $400.00

Adolfo Podrecca

Amir Fleischer

Charles J. Kane

Cris E. Boyar

Gary Marks

Harley Kane

Jay Spechler

Joseph R. Dawson

Laura M. Watson

Marc Finkelstein

Mary Margaret-Monk

Michael Bendell

Michele Muir

Paul A. Adams

William Ruggiero

Broward attorneys, hourly rate: $375.00

Andrew J. Weinstein

Angela Cohn

Nichole Pacella

Paul S. Adams

Robert Stein

Robert Bradford, Jr.

Keith Schafer

Steven Ainbinder

Steven Lander

Broward attorneys, hourly rate: $350.00

David M. Spitz

Douglas  Harrison

Emilio R. Stillo

Nathan J. Avrunin

Nicole R. Malick

Rafael I. Katz

Broward attorneys, hourly rate: $325.00

Brian H. Malamud

Caroline Perlegas

Mark P. Mullen

Michael Fischetti

Steve Phillips

Timothy A. Patrick

Helen Stratigakos

Broward attorneys, hourly rate: $300.00

Chris Pole

Vanessa Casullo

Kathy Eikosidekas

Car accident lawsuit in Broward court seeks $2.59 even after all PIP benefits paid

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

The car accident injury claims were filed. The insurance company made payments to the limit of Florida law for personal injury protection (PIP). So what happened next? A Fort Lauderdale attorney filed a lawsuit for $2.59.

And that’s the way it is in Broward County, where attorney Steven Lander of Lander & Goldman in Fort Lauderdale is suing United Auto Insurance Company (United Auto) on behalf of his client.

This is yet another instance of plaintiff attorneys seeking petty amounts for their clients and big legal fees for themselves. This abuse of the legal system makes insurance coverage more expensive for drivers and misuse precious court time. Judges, court clerks and insurance companies waste their time and money dealing with civil charges that do little for the insured and everything for their attorneys.

What makes this case incomprehensible is that United Auto had paid the full limit of PIP benefits. Basic PIP benefits cover 80 percent of an injured person’s medical bills and 60 percent of lost wages up to a maximum of $10,000. In the case of Lander’s client, United Auto had issued two payments equaling the $10,000 figure before the lawsuit was filed.

The client, which does business as C&R Imaging of Hollywood, claims that its benefits were improperly reduced. How is this possible? Lander does not explain this in court papers.  All he says in the initial filing is that United Auto breached its contract to provide benefits.

The dispute is headed to a pre-trial conference, which may put an end to the matter.  But, what’s left unresolved is why such petty claims get filed. Who has the greater motivation to sue in this case, the MRI clinic that’s seeking $2.59 or an attorney who charges about $375 an hour for his services? And why haven’t the courts – and the Florida legislature – done more to clear the courts of this type of mess?

Lawsuit on auto insurance claim proceeds even though amount being sought is…who knows?

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Here is a lawsuit that needs to go away, if for no other reason that it is a waste of time and money. A client of Coral Gables attorney George David of George A. David, P.A., has sued in Miami-Dade County court for as little as 17 cents as and no more than $9.63. Just how much? No one knows. David is not saying.

This type of litigation has prompted United Automobile Insurance Company to step up its fight against needless and unjustified billing of auto insurance claims. Ultimately, policyholders, taxpayers, and insurers pay the costs of large demands for tiny sums. Court reform is needed to clear the dockets for more substantial matters of law and speed the justice system.

The dispute started almost five years ago, when a United Auto policyholder sought reimbursement for an MRI related to an automobile accident claim. After deductions and such, the company issued three checks: one for $139.83 for benefits, a second for $30.89 in interest expenses, and a third for $19.19 in demand penalty and postage fees.

Did that satisfy the customer? Apparently not. In March 2008, David sued on behalf of the client, claiming extra interest was due. Three months later, the three checks were cashed and David did not specify a dollar figure. As of early December 2009, the lawsuit was still pending but the claim amount remained a mystery.

As part of the lawsuit, a litigation adjuster calculated just how much more might be owed to David’s client. The answer: as little as 17 cents and no more than $9.63.

United Auto has asked the judge to throw out the lawsuit, arguing in part that, “One can only conclude that the lawsuit was filed solely for the purpose of billing attorney fees.”

In Miami-Dade County Court, judges routinely award attorneys fees ranging from $300 to $500 per hour for simple fender-bender accidents.

An isolated incident? No. In May 2009, the 13th Circuit Court heard an appeal from a medical provider for an additional 89 cents in interest. The court ruled against the provider, saying it had used the wrong interest formula.

Administrative Judge James M. Barton, who was on the panel that heard the appeal, wrote in his opinion that attorneys for both sides, a county court and the circuit court had spent considerable energy on the case. He stated, “In my view, the time has come to say, ‘Enough!’” The court should not spend its time on unimportant matters. Barton also noted that as long ago as 1858 the Florida Supreme Court refused to send back to trial a demand for less than $11 in interest.

“The court showed good judgment then. It’s time for all Florida courts to follow the same practice.”

“The PIP fraud is just so prevalent, and we believe it is driven 100 percent by the staggering legal fees being awarded to PIP attorneys representing unscrupulous storefront clinics and imaging centers,” said Richard Parrillo, Sr., Founder and CEO of United Auto Insurance Company.  “There is no question that these cooperative arrangements amount to organized PIP fraud rings, but unfortunately, the laws are full of loopholes and the penalties for committing the fraud equate to a slap on the wrist.  Something needs to be done about this untenable situation that is costing Florida’s drivers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.”

Wasting the court’s time and money: an appeal for $1.19

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Is it worth suing over $1.19?

One Miami-Dade attorney seems to think so, especially when you can bill about $400 an hour in legal fees.

Attorney George David of George A. David, P.A., Coral Gables, is asking a panel of appeals court judges in Miami-Dade Circuit Court for $1.19 — plus his fees, of course — in payment related to an auto accident injuries claim. At issue is not whether his client got paid, it did, but whether the client was shortchanged. David says “yes” in his appeal, but legal precedents say he should not be wasting the court’s time and the taxpayer’s money.

Miami-Dade County Court Judge Lawrence King had awarded David’s client, Stand-Up MRI of Miami, $16.38 in interest on a bill payment. United Automobile Insurance Co. sent a check for $20. The response? Not that the judge erred in calculating the interest owed; that was never contested. The amount billed was also not contested.

Rather than asking the county court to correct its judgment, David appealed to circuit court, claiming a little more interest and a lot more in legal fee.

The law has a term for minuscule differences that waste court and professional time: De minimis no curat lex, which translates to “the law does not care about small things.” Disputes over a dollar or two, or even 10, do not deserve the court’s time. And taxpayers should not accommodate attorneys who waste the money spent processing such appeals.

In fact, the Florida Bar has sanctioned attorneys for such behavior. One attorney appealed for an additional 23 cents in 2007. The Florida Bar complained about his behavior to the Florida Supreme Court, which barred the attorney for 91 days. In its opinion, the Court said of the attorney, “The pettiness of his behavior hurt his clients, the opposing party, and ultimately, the profession…”

Sadly, that incident was not an isolated one. And this is not David’s only instance of running the legal meter for matters worth no one’s time.

United Auto is committed to fighting needless and unjustified billing of auto insurance claims in an effort to reduce the financial burden on its policyholders, the general public and the company. The company will expose abuses of the insurance system and the courts in an effort to promote reform of the legal system.