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Tampa takes lead as staged accident insurance fraud capital

Posted on October 11, 2010 12:00 AM EST

Police out of Tampa arrested eight people for being involved in an insurance fraud scheme involving staged accidents. Tampa has taken over the top spot from Miami regarding these types of offenses. Hillsborough County has become acutely aware of the problem it faces regarding insurance fraud of this kind and intends to use significant assets to quash it. From 2008 to 2009, Hillsborough County experienced a 290% increase in staged accident claims rising from 232 to 487. Included in the in the figures are Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. The Hillsborough police say they uncovered a new type of scam where U-Haul trucks are used in the accidents because renters can secure a $1 million dollar policy for $100.00. As a Miami criminal attorney, I can tell you that the use of rental trucks due to high insurance coverage have been used in dozens of cases in South Florida.

For years, Miami had been considered the staged accident capital of Florida, but stricter laws and specialized insurance fraud units made life increasing difficult for those who were involved in staged accidents for the purpose of attending sham clinics and billing insurance companies for non-existent injuries. Miami was able to curb the problem form the bottom up Drivers and passengers of vehicles involved in staged accidents were arrested and facing significant jail time as a result of changes in the legislature. The law changed to read that any person that organizes, plans or participates in an intentional motor vehicle accident with the intent of filing personal injury claims is guilty of committing a second degree felony. More importantly, the offense carries a two year minimum prison sentence.

Because drivers and passengers were facing such dire consequences and most of the defendants were first-time offenders, they were offered the opportunity not to be arrested or receive significantly reduced sentences for their cooperation in prosecuting the accident planners, clinic owners and doctors involved in the elaborate schemes. Eventually, the majority of the drivers and passengers had provided enough information where the individuals responsible for the majority of the losses to the insurance companies were taken out of circulation. Dozens of clinic owners, doctors and others involved in the day to day operations of the clinic were arrested and the clinics closed. Over the past year, the number of arrests in Miami for staged accident insurance fraud cases have been significantly reduced, although the state court criminal docket remains replete with these types of cases. The cases stay open do to the swelling number of cases in the Miami-Dade County criminal justice system.

The overloaded docket and the overwhelmed prosecutors at the state attorney's office often provide the best defense to a stage accident insurance fraud case. A defense attorney will tell you that the longer a cases remains open the better the result will likely be for the defendant. The strength of these insurance fraud cases lies with flip witnesses or in other words with co-defendants who have been promised deals to testify against the ringleaders of the operations. Seldom is there any physical evidence and the prosecution relies solely on testimonial evidence. As long as a defendant did not make an incriminating statement to law enforcement, a solid cross-examination of the state witnesses will more often than not lead to an acquittal on the charges. Even if a case is weak, insurance fraud investigators leave little discretion to plead case out with the prosecutors. That being the case, anyone arrested for staged accident insurance fraud should prepare themselves for trial, at least in Miami-Dade County.

Hillsborough Deputies Arrest Suspects in Staged Car Crashes, TampaBay.com, October 9, 2010.
Categories: Fraud