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Court Addresses PIP Set Off in Recent Decision - Carpenter v. Chavez, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 2nd Dist. 2016

In Florida, for car accidents involving personal injuries, there arises a question of whether PIP applies to cover medical bills. Personal injury protection commonly referred to as "PIP" is set off from other damages in motor vehicle accidents. PIP is a component of Florida car insurance policies and covers medical expenses up to $10,000 for an injured party. A person injured in a car crash receives PIP when the medical expenses relate to the crash in issue, are reasonable, and are necessary. In most instances, the PIP payment will be set off, or deducted, from the ultimate damage award. There are exceptions, but generally, the PIP set off prevents a plaintiff from receiving exemplary damages. Exemplary damages are damages, which are not related to the injury but are punitive in nature. Our personal injury lawyers in South Florida find that Florida law prohibits exemplary damages in most personal injury cases.

In the Carpenter case, the plaintiff, Chavez, suffered injuries in a car crash caused by Carpenter. Chavez argued that the medical damages she suffered exceed $203,000. However, the jury heard evidence that Chavez had a pre-existing condition. Chavez suffered from a condition that caused four discs to bulge in her neck. The jury returned a verdict of $48,840 for past medical expenses attributed to the crash. The jury found that Chavez did not sustain any permanent injuries in the crash and did not award her for future medical expenses.

The trial judge entered an order of setoff of PIP payments. The trial judge setoff $2,000 from the jury award as PIP rather than the entire $10,000 worth of PIP payments Chavez received. Chavez successfully argued to the trial court that it was impossible for the judge to determine whether the PIP applied to medical bills for which the jury compensated her or the money applied to the amount for which the jury refused to compensate her. Carpenter argued that the judge need not apportion the PIP payment between the compensated and uncompensated amount. Rather, Carpenter asserted that the $10,000 PIP payments in their entirety be set off against the jury award. The trial court agreed with Chavez and reasoned that 20% of the PIP should be setoff against the jury award because the jury found 20% of the damages Chavez claimed. Therefore, the trial judge ordered $2,000 set off against the award. After the trial, Chavez received $46,840.

Carpenter appealed and argued that the trial judge setoff the wrong amount, and therefore, Chavez received a windfall of money she did not deserve. In Florida, plaintiffs have no right to receive damages for medical bills covered by PIP. A setoff prevents plaintiffs from receiving double benefits for injuries suffered in an accident. But, the party seeking the setoff has the burden to prove that the PIP setoff applies to the claimed damages.

The State of Florida follows a common sense approach to the question of whether PIP should be setoff against a jury award. The common sense approach basically asks for what injuries did the plaintiff receive the PIP benefits. If the jury award covered the injuries for which PIP (and Medpay) would usually cover, then PIP and Medpay must be setoff against the jury award. Using the common sense approach under Florida law, the appeals court determined that the $10,000 in PIP should be set off against Chavez' jury award of $48,840 because the jury determined that only $48,840 in damages were caused by the accident and the remainder was not caused by the accident. Therefore, because PIP payments can only be applied to medical bills caused by a car crash, the entire $10,000 in PIP benefits must be setoff against the entire jury award to avoid a windfall for Chavez.

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