Our lawyers have experience in the criminal defense field. Utilizing a skill set honed by experience in complex cases, our lawyers offer clients practical legal strategies for defending against charges of staging a fraudulent accident, which is a charge of insurance fraud.
An accusation of staging an accident is a serious charge. Someone accused of such a crime is facing the possibility of a lengthy jail sentence and a very serious fine. Over the last several years, legislatures have been mounting fines and jail time on people convicted of insurance fraud in an attempt to dissuade fraudsters. In turn, prosecutors are looking to put fraudsters “away” when caught defrauding insurance companies.
In addition, being accused of fraud in one type of insurance can severely affect your ability to obtain insurance for another type. We all use insurance in one way or another. Therefore, you need an advocate on your side who will not allow an accusation to affect the way you live your life.
If you are facing a charge of insurance fraud stemming from a claim of staging an accident, call us now. Your situation is serious; our lawyers are serious.
Example of “Staging an Accident”
Robert is driving in his car where he enters a highway. On the highway, there is a merge from his lane onto the highway. The driver on the side, named Steve, waives for Robert to enter first. Robert takes the cue and enters the highway, only to be rear-ended a minute later. He notices that the driver who hit him was Steve.
Steve claims that he is unable to get out of his car due to whiplash and calls the police. A few minutes later, the police arrive and talk with Robert and Steve. Robert maintains that Steve waived him into the lane; Steve denies Robert’s story and claims that Robert’s negligence caused the crash.
After considering the circumstances, the insurance company may consider Robert at fault because he was trying to merge. However, Steve’s actions were fraudulent because he can now go to Robert’s insurance company and get a new car or a cash payout. This is insurance fraud.
Robert may claim insurance fraud. If that is true, Steve may be looking at significant jail time and a hefty fine.
“Swoop and Squat”
A similar type of “staging an accident” is called the “swoop and squat” where two cars are involved in staging the accident. One car drives alongside the victim car so that the victim does not leave its lane and the other car “swoops” in front of the victim and causes a rear-end crash. At this point, the swoop car blames the victim for the crash and tries to cash on the victim’s insurance.
Those involved in an elaborate scheme to stage car crashes may employ “bystanders” who immediately come to the scene of the accident. These bystanders will claim to have “seen” the accident and will then provide “details” of the accident. These details will present the fraudulent driver in the most positive light. They will likely give such a report to the police who arrive at the scene and repeat their stories to the insurance companies.
Degrees of Fraud
In New York state, the following are the degrees of insurance fraud:
- First Degree Insurance Fraud: New York Penal Law 176.30 – More than $1,000,000 in fraudulent claims.
- Second Degree Insurance Fraud: New York Penal Law 176.25 – More than $50,000 in fraudulent claims, but less than or equal to $1,000,000.
- Third Degree Insurance Fraud: New York Penal Law 176.20 – More than $3,000 in fraudulent claims, but less than or equal to $50,000.
- Fourth Degree Insurance Fraud: New York Penal Law 176.15 – More than $1,000 in fraudulent claims, but less than or equal to $3,000.
- Fifth Degree Insurance Fraud: Less than $1,000 in fraudulent claims would be Fifth Degree Insurance fraud; there is no jail time associated with this crime.
Basically, the amount of money that the fraudster seeks will govern the degree of fraud. If the money sought is low, then the degree is low; when the amount is higher, the degree is higher.
A fourth-degree offense is a misdemeanor, meaning that it comes with less than a year of jail time. For the other degrees, violators will be facing 4 to 25 years in jail.
Note that with higher amounts of damage, which often deal with accidents with luxury cars, will often raise suspicion of staging an accident. Those cases will be associated with the largest suspicion of staging an accident. As a result, those cases have the largest potential for long jail terms and higher fines.
In addition to a fraud accusation, those accused of staging an accident to obtain insurance funds may be hit with a grand larceny charge. Grand larceny occurs, in New York, when the offender illegally takes or withholds funds from its owner. Due to its similarities to fraud, one charged with staging a fraudulent accident may also be facing grand larceny charges.
Larceny is a fancy term for saying theft. Grand larceny occurs when the stolen amount is high. Like insurance fraud, there are degrees of grand larceny based on the amount in question.
Consequences of Insurance Fraud
According to the New York Attorney General’s website, insurance fraud costs New Yorkers millions of dollars every year. The costs are in the form of higher insurance premiums for everyone. As a result, the government sees insurance fraud as a cost for everyone paying higher insurance premiums; something politicians want to keep in check.
Authorities Dealing with Staged Accident Fraud
Police and insurance investigators are weary of people staging accidents to defraud insurance companies. The police will launch investigations when they see what they believe are signs of fraud and the insurance companies will fight those claiming injury when suspicious activity arises.
Staged Accident Investigations
The police and insurance investigators will likely look at any surveillance video of the accident. Their experts will look at various angles of how the accident occurred. Experts such as civil engineers will compare different speeds and the like to determine how the accident should have happened. They will look at skid marks, the angles of the damages, where the accident occurred, and more.
Authorities are very aware of staging accidents to collect insurance money fraudulently and are, therefore, very keen on the details of the accident.
Being Accused of Staging an Accident
If you are accused of staging an accident, know that you have rights. Because insurance fraud is considered a public problem that affects everybody’s insurance premiums, law enforcement, and the prosecutor crack down on it. To that end, the prosecution will likely pursue those accused of staging an accident with vigor.
Staged Accident Fraud in the News
In July of 2018, the Louisiana Insurance Fraud/Theft Unit, part of the Louisiana State Police, arrested five people that allegedly staged a crash to obtain insurance proceeds. Police say that those people staged a crash and faked bodily injuries.
In Tampa, Florida in 2012, a security camera seems to show that an SUV slammed into a car in the middle of the road. However, when rewinding the tape and playing it slowly, it shows that someone parked the car in the middle of the road and then the SUV crashed into the car. After the crash, people entered the SUV and then called the police. The people involved in the scheme were charged with insurance fraud.
In Los Angeles, California, police warned of a scheme: young Latino men throw themselves in front of cars at low speeds and then claim to be hurt. The young men demand that the individual driving the car pay them $200 or else the young man will call the police. Most drivers would like to just move on and not have to deal with the issue; $200 seems reasonable under the circumstances. To that end, the Los Angeles Police Department issued a warning to drivers not to accept the situation as is and instead call the police.
In Australia in May of 2017, insurer AIG became suspicious that a man who claimed injuries actually staged an accident. Upon further investigation, the police determined that the man committed fraud and arrested him. A judge sentenced the man to six months in prison.
In 2017, Connecticut police arrested several people involved in staging accidents. According to the police, the people would stage crashes on rural roads where no one would see the accident except for those who were involved in the “crash.” After the accident, they would file fraudulent claims with their insurance companies. Police said that those men conspired to stage approximately fifty crashes throughout rural areas in the state.
How to Defend Against a Charge of Insurance Fraud/Staging an Accident
Like all other criminal cases, insurance fraud stemming from a charge of staging an accident requires that the prosecution prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. To that end, a skilled lawyer will review the prosecution’s case to see whether the case has gaps.
Do the facts of the case, as presented by the prosecution, really point to insurance fraud? Does it really show that the accident was staged? Or is the prosecution stretching the case beyond what the facts show? In other words, is the evidence sufficient?
If you slammed on the brakes and were subsequently rear-ended by a luxury car, the prosecution might claim that you staged an accident. Was it really staged? Those facts, by themselves, are insufficient to demonstrate that the accident was staged. While a luxury car is a target for a staged accident, luxury cars are involved in accidents all the time.
Similarly, just because witnesses appeared immediately does not mean that those witnesses are part of your scheme. Those witnesses are likely legitimate and have absolutely no ties to you. Their timing when arriving at the scene of the accident, though suspicious, in no way proves that you staged the accident.
Perhaps you are unemployed or underemployed and considered “likely” to commit insurance fraud. Even if you fit the demographics of others convicted for staging an accident, that, by itself, in no way means that you staged an accident when you reported a car accident.
Prosecutors will point out these statistics as “proof” that you staged the accident; while statistics may point to general trends, statistics do not demonstrate solid evidence that an accident was staged.
The prosecution will look toward the surrounding circumstances to claim that an accident was staged. While signs of a staged accident may exist, those signs are simply signs; they do not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Looking for an Attorney to defend you against a charge of a staging an accident? – Call Us Now
Charges of staging an accident fraud can have a devastating impact on your family, your business, and your future in the profession. Your freedom is in jeopardy; you may be facing significant jail time. And, because staging an accident is viewed as a public nuisance due to its effect on everybody’s insurance premiums, you will likely be facing a very vigorous prosecutor determine to put the “public nuisance” away for a long time.
That is why you need an experienced defense attorney skilled and knowledgeable in defending against staging accident fraud. Prosecutors want to demonstrate to the public that they are trying to keep insurance rates in check; you need a strong advocate who will protect your rights.
Our attorneys understand the seriousness of these prosecutions and can help you understand the charges that are being brought against you. We can accompany you to interrogations and ensure that your rights are not violated. Ultimately, our goal is to help you establish a legitimate defense.
We have the knowledge and background to defend anyone prosecuted for staging an accident fraud. Our experience includes representing industry and corporate clients in cases like these.
If you or someone you love has been charged with a fraud crime, call our attorneys for a free legal consultation.