According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, car crash scams are up almost by 50% from the period 2009 to 2012 alone.
Accident investigators are well aware of this insurance claim scam uptick. Granted, if you are working defense, you will be looking for disqualifiers but those of us who work with plaintiffs’ attorneys are equally as trained and aware of fraudulent claims. We have to be. Our job, and nature, is to protect our law and legal community clients.
(Recounted in the vernacular.) We have conducted thousands of MVA investigations at this point in our company’s history. The majority of the investigations follow a fairly common routine: obtain and review police report, verify factors on said report, interview witnesses and if necessary, on site or actual vehicles involved accident reconstruction. This is, of course, a very simplified version of the investigative steps involved in MVA cases but again, generally MVA cases are fairly straightforward – from the investigator’s perspective.
Every so often, and more of late, along comes the case that strikes the investigator as odd. This is the one where the pieces (sometimes literally) do not come together. Mid-August 2012, what appeared to be a routine MVA investigation request came across my desk. The potential clients were passengers in a vehicle rear-ended by a rental truck. I was about to assign it out to one of our field operatives for a sign-up and intake when I realized that an out-of-state vehicle was involved. The manager side of me shot down my mental list of state requirements to verify the vehicle’s registrant, owner…
Registrant: Male, 29, recently licensed in PA.
Owner: U-Haul, (PA). Ok, slam dunk on insurance. PA driver’s license, valid.
Driver: Male, 52, from the Bronx, NY.
Owner: Livery cab operation in the Bronx. (Same address as driver.)
Victim 1: Female, 38, from the Bronx, NY, soft tissue injuries
Victim 2: Female, infant, age 7, Bronx, lacerations, orbital fracture (ocular)
Victim 3: Male, infant, age 10, Bronx, concussion, broken tooth, face and head lacerations
In the course of a routine def. driver’s address history, one of his former addresses intersected within one block of our “victim’s” current address in the Bronx.
We ran the adult victim for prior lawsuits. 6 hits.
Intuition. A harder look at the victim’s address history yielded her having lived exactly at the def. driver’s former Bronx address.
I spoke with our client, the attorney, advised him of these developments and requested his permission to re-interview his potential client and if possible. also have the kids involved present during this meeting. Approved.
The mother gave a very compelling, emotional account of the accident. Looking directly at me, eyes dissolved in tears. She was extremely upset that her children (who were in the cab she had hired to go food shopping) had been injured and traumatized. I occasionally lobbed a soft question to one of the kids. They would not look at me directly and answered in staccato, almost sullen responses. (That will happen regardless with most children when interviewed. A stranger is asking them about a painful incident. We’ve socialized our children to a- not speak to strangers and b- keep quiet about important things unless speaking with a parent or guardian.) I figured the boy would be the best shot at uncovering anything out of the ordinary as he was older, articulating well, albeit in spurts, and not to be a sexist, but boys like cars and actiony-stuff. (Yes, that is professional terminology.) As the mother was recounting the accident, with a few variations from the attorney’s brief to me, and now with her eyes diverting from mine, I asked the boy if he had talked to the police and helped his mom explain how the accident had happened. He said he had talked to the police. ”Did they ask you if you were okay?” “Yes, ma’am.” (Intentionally did not ask the next logical question.) Skipped to “Do you remember, Kevin, if the police asked you if your Mom was okay? Was Sonya ok?”. He nodded his head and then blurted out, “ but I don’t know what happened to Uncle Tommy”. (Immediate mental note to self, def. driver, middle initial T.) The mother stopped crying for a moment, interjecting immediately, “No, no, Kevin, we do not know if that is the cab driver’s name”. Then looking directly at me, she said she had used this car service a few times with her children (in tow) so perhaps her son thought he knew him. I slid right over that poor explanation and continued interviewing the mother about her injuries and various other throwaway questions. Interview completed.
I then took a more in-depth look at the woman’s lawsuit history and another pretty nugget revealed itself. The def. driver was also a plaintiff in one of her previous lawsuits. (Apparently, over the years, they’d tired of paying other drivers to rear end them so decided to bring that activity in-house. The out-of-state license was a nice touch.)
This information returned to my client. In her first conversation with the attorney, the potential client had stated she did not know of any witnesses, or the drivers involved in the accident, etc. He refused the case. (Please don’t ask if the livery cab “operation”, run by an individual out of his apartment, had active insurance. Also, I’m not going to describe the ethical decisions that the mother made regarding endangering the welfare of children.)
There has been an astounding increase in car-crash scams within the past several years and especially now, in an economic downturn. We’ve literally been told, by the claimants themselves, “I’ve done this before. With kids getting hurt, the insurance companies will settle.”
Our MVA investigation protocol is to do exactly as outlined above:
Ask the potential client if s/he has been involved in prior accidents. (The primary objective is to determine if the victim has a significant, possibly related medical history.)
Run the def. driver’s background to include address history.
If anything unusual will come out, it is generally during this initial “homework” phase and well before our clients go into significant out-of-pocket.
Our Operatives: Street smart; info savvy.
As always, stay safe.