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Florida Second DCA finds that county school board was not exempt from PIP insurer’s reimbursement demand for benefits paid to injured school bus passengers

On May 24, 2019, in Lee County School Board v. State Farm, No. 2D17-4595, the Florida Second DCA affirmed a trial court order finding the Lee County School Board and its insurer liable to State Farm for reimbursement of personal injury protection (PIP) benefits paid by State Farm to two of its insureds who were injured while passengers on a school bus.  Under Fla. Stat. 627.7405, when a “commercial vehicle” is involved in an accident, PIP insurers for injured occupants may claim reimbursement from the owner of the commercial vehicle.  Although certain types of commercial vehicles are specifically exempted from the reimbursement obligation, including mobile homes, taxis and vehicles used in mass transit, school buses are expressly included. However, the School Board claimed that it is entitled to sovereign immunity from any legal claims, and that Section 627.7405 does not constitute a “clear and unequivocal waiver” of such immunity.  The Second DCA concluded that “by expressly including vehicles owned by an entity that ordinarily enjoys the protection of sovereign immunity—specifically, a school board—in the definition of vehicles subject to a statutory cause of action for reimbursement, the legislature has clearly and unequivocally waived sovereign immunity as to that cause of action.”