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Florida Third DCA reverses trial court ruling that 2012 PIP Act provision denying chiropractors the right to certify emergency medical condition is unconstitutional

On February 15, 2017, in Progressive American Insurance Company v. Garrido, No. 3D15-1067, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s finding that the omission of chiropractors from the list of health care professionals authorized to diagnose an emergency condition under Section 627.736(1)(a)(3) was unconstitutional on the grounds of equal protection and due process under the Florida Constitution. The statutory provision at issue was part of the 2012 PIP Act which limited the full $10,000 in potential PIP benefits to injured persons diagnosed with an emergency medical condition and restricted the class of health care providers who can make such a diagnosis to licensed medical doctors, osteopathic physicians, dentists, physician assistants and advanced registered nurses. The 2012 Act limited PIP medical benefits to $2,500 for injured persons diagnosed by any medical provider eligible to receive PIP reimbursement benefits (including chiropractors) as not having an emergency medical condition. The trial court had analyzed the equal protection challenge under the rational basis test because it did not involve a fundamental right or a suspect classification. The Third DCA noted that the appellee would have to be able to show that “there is no conceivable factual predicate which would rationally support the law,” and that the appellee failed in this respect because the legislature could have conducted its own evaluation of the respective professionals’ qualifications and come to the conclusion that chiropractors were less qualified. In addition, the Court concluded that chiropractors were not similarly situated to other medical providers entitled to make an emergency condition diagnosis because of the difference in their training, licensing and scope of professional practice. The Court additionally rejected the appellee’s alternative argument, adopted by the trial court, that because the statute is silent with regard to whether the $10,000 or $$2,500 cap applies where there is no determination (pro or con) as to whether an injured person has an emergency medical condition, injured persons in such situations must be entitled to the full $10,000 in potential PIP medical benefits. The Third DCA noted that both the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Florida Fourth DCA had already rejected this argument, and that such a construction of the statute would render the requirement of an emergency medical condition diagnosis meaningless (“we construe related statutory provisions in pari materia and do not construe statutes so as to render related provisions meaningless”).
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