Last week I was working on a personal injury claim on behalf of two Canadian citizens who were visiting in Florida when they were involved in an automobile accident. This week I believe my calendar shows two matters involving injured snowbirds from northern states. The fact is that Florida, perhaps more than any other state, has lots of out-of-state residents on its roads. And, as a result, many of them are seriously injured.
Most out-of-staters bring with them insurance policies which may have to be used to accomplish full compensation for the injuries sustained. This is especially true regarding No-Fault, Medical Payments and Uninsured Motorist Coverages. My staff and I have to carefully review these policies, research Florida and out-of-state law, and do what we can to navigate the complications and roadblocks that arise.
Now, we have to contend with a new opinion of the Florida Supreme Court which may put some of our snowbird clients at a disadvantage in making their claims for just compensation.
“Snowbirds” and other part-time Florida residents who insure their cars back home cannot make claims under Florida laws that may be more favorable to them than those in their own states, the state Supreme Court has ruled.
The ruling applies to crashes or other damages that occur in Florida. It was unanimous, but Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis agreed only with its result. He wrote that the majority’s sole reliance on where a policy is issued may result in unintended consequences.
The opinion quashed a 2nd District Court of Appeal decision to permit a lawsuit under Florida law against Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm for a claim on an Indiana policy.
The Supreme Court said only Florida citizens, not visitors or part-time residents, can claim the benefits of Florida law under out-of-state insurance policies and only then if necessary to “promote a paramount public policy.”
“Although Florida welcomes its many visitors, whether for short or extended stays, we cannot rewrite their out-of-state contracts,” Justice Raoul Cantero wrote for the high court.
The decision will prevent Lake Wales residents Thomas and Margaret Roach, who were injured in 2001 while riding in a neighboring couple’s Indiana-insured car, from suing State Farm for underinsured motorist compensation under Florida law.
Indiana law would prohibit them from recovering because it permits an offset of underinsured motorist coverage against claims paid under other types of coverage. Florida law does not permit offsets.