Author Archives: Mark J. Rose, Esq.

Fort Lauderdale residents arrested for PIP Fraud

The Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud announced on March 19, 2015 the arrest of two Fort Lauderdale Residents for PIP fraud following a staged accident. Kendrick Callins and Lashaunda Gibbs were arrested for staging auto accident, patient brokering and personal injury protection insurance fraud.

The Division of Insurance Fraud, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Broward County Sheriff’s office and the Fort Lauderdale Police Department investigation revealed that Callins and Gibbs organized and participated in a staged accident on September 22, 2012, in Fort Lauderdale. The staged accident involved participants, recruited by Callins and Gibbs, who intentionally drove a rented U-Haul truck into a passenger vehicle occupied by arrestees. The arrestees submitted fraudulent insurance claims which were paid by the insurers. Callins and Gibbs each face a maximum sentence of 25 years.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

Insurance Bill addresses issues with Assignment of Benefits

Florida House of Representative, John Tobia of the 53rd district, has introduced CS/HB 669 which addresses consumer issues related to “Assignment of Benefits”. The bill is still alive after a hearing on March 19, 2015 in front of the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee. The bill addresses insurance-claims issues regarding AOB’s dealing with property insurance. An AOB occurs when a policyholder has a loss and signs a contract with a third party to reconcile the damage. Once the AOB is signed the contract allows for the third party to be assigned the proceeds from the homeowner’s insurance policy. AOB’s are currently a hot topic with property insurance carriers and for years have been the keystone of PIP/No Fault Litigation.

CS/HB 669

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Filed under FL Legislation

Cape Coral Cracks Down on Drivers without Insurance

Representatives from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), the local police department, and 17 state and national auto insurance carriers conducted an insurance crackdown in Cape Coral, Fla. on Tuesday, March 17. More than 35 police officers split into three groups, all on the lookout for uninsured motorists and motorists with fraudulent insurance.

The officers pulled over speeders and drivers not wearing their seatbelts, and then checked whether they had valid proof of insurance in hand. Drivers who were stopped for speeding or being unbuckled, but had valid paperwork available, could be let go with a warning. At the end of the day, officers had given out 230 written warnings and 68 uniform traffic citations, 15 of which were for no proof of insurance.

“We try to do an operation like this at least once a year,” Cape Coral Police Department spokesman Sgt. Dana Coston said. While the officers pulled over drivers, the NICB and dozens of insurance representatives were back at the police station, working directly with the officers to verify coverage.

A common scheme, Sgt. Coston explained, is for an individual to apply for auto coverage, get the paperwork, cancel the insurance, and then use the now-invalid insurance card as proof of coverage. Officers usually have to rely on state data, which is often outdated, to verify coverage, but because officers had “real time” access to insurance representatives on Tuesday, they could confirm on the spot if the insurance coverage was valid.

Sgt. Coston was heartened by the results of the day’s work. “Seeing that [only] about 5 percent of the drivers had any type of problem when stopped today is very encouraging. That’s probably one of the highest rates of compliance we’ve seen in years.”

Coston went on to explain that, because it is likely that at least some of those ticketed will show up in court with their missing paperwork, “the rate of compliance is actually even higher than the 95 percent we saw today.”

As for those who continue to drive without insurance or with fraudulent insurance? “They’ll get caught eventually, it’s just kind of rolling the dice,” said Cape Coral Police Sergeant Jon Kulko.

Cape Coral, Fla. is located on the Gulf Coast in Lee County, just south of Fort Myers.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

GEICO Prevails on Appeal in Case Involving $50K Typo

Bernadette Ryan was involved in a car accident in 2013 and sued her insurer, GEICO, based on the uninsured/underinsured motorist portion of her insurance policy. A rejected, pre-trial Proposal for Settlement for the $50,000 policy maximum stated that Ryan wanted:

“One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($50,000) inclusive of all costs and fees and in full and final settlement of all pending claims. The total amount of this settlement shall not exceed $50,000.”

The case proceeded to trial and the jury awarded Ryan $195,739.81. Because her damages award was more than 25% greater than the offer in the rejected Proposal for Settlement, Ryan filed a motion to tax costs and a motion to tax attorney’s fees pursuant to Florida Statute 768.79.

Noting the inconsistent dollar amounts in Ryan’s settlement document, GEICO argued at the hearing that the document was patently ambiguous. Ryan, on the other hand, insisted that GEICO knew “exactly what the proposal was for.”

Circuit Judge Dale Ross, while agreeing that confusion existed, nonetheless sided with Ryan and ruled that the “shall not exceed” clause cleared up the confusion. The judge then entered an order granting Ryan’s motions for attorney’s fees and to tax costs. GEICO appealed that order.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed with GEICO that the Proposal for Settlement was ambiguous and unenforceable and the trial court erred in enforcing it. The court therefore reversed the trial judge’s decision, saying, “The trial judge had no basis in law or fact to conclude otherwise.”

Click on the link to read the ruling of the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

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Filed under Case Law

Google Compare Auto Insurance Launches in California

As reported earlier in FLPIPGuide.com, recent rumors about Google entering the U.S. auto insurance market have proven to be true as the tech giant recently announced its launch of Google Compare Auto Insurance in California. A roll-out in more states is planned.

According to a recent article in Insurance Journal, Google calls its online price-comparison service a “seamless, intuitive experience for connecting with your customers online.”

A company-issued news release said, “Whether you’re a national insurance provider or one local to California, people searching for car insurance on their phone or computer can find you along with an apples-to-apples comparison of other providers all in as little as 5 minutes.”

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company indicates that participation in Google Compare is based on a flexible cost-per-acquisition model.  Payment is not a factor in ranking or eligibility, according to Google.

The Google Compare Auto Insurance portal is user-friendly, and lists a variety of carriers, including Mercury and MetLife, who are partners in the project. Californians simply enter their zip code to bring up a form that asks for basic information such as name and date of birth. There is also a “speed things up” autofill feature, especially convenient to those on Google’s Chrome browser. Visitors to the site are self-directed through screens, eventually resulting in quotes for auto insurance.

Google Compare Auto Insurance Services Inc. has been licensed to sell insurance in at least 26 states and could reportedly be working with CoverHound, which currently offers online quotes for multiple insurers including Hartford, esurance, 21st Century, Travelers, Safeco, National General, Progressive, Foremost, Plymouth Rock and others, Insurance Journal said.

The company intends to introduce ratings and reviews, as well as local agent support for providers with agent networks.

Google’s entry into the insurance market, along with its role in building autonomous vehicles, could make it a dominant player in the field. William R. Berkley, CEO of W.R. Berkley Corp., revealed in a management seminar presentation to independent agents in January that “Google has the capacity to change auto insurance” because of the competitive advantage it gained when the company invested a significant amount of money to “actively build a rule-road map of America.”

An article in TechCrunch reported that several major insurance carriers may be taking a wait-and-see approach, however.

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Filed under Uncategorized

The High Cost of Auto Insurance Fraud

Auto insurance fraud hits drivers’ wallets hard, not only with the apparent increase in premiums, but also indirectly, through higher costs that are eventually passed down to consumers. A recent story on Fox Business reported about the heavy toll this type of fraud takes on many Americans.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) 2013 report, 78,024 suspected cases of auto insurance fraud were reported nationwide in 2012, an increase of 12.7% from 2011 to 2012. Those numbers helped to raise a three-year total—from 2010 through 2012—to more than 209,000 questionable claims (QCs).

Out of all the types of insurance fraud, auto insurance makes up the largest piece of the fraud pie, the NICB says. There were 4.5 times more questionable auto insurance claims than homeowners’ personal property QC’s (17,183), and almost 17.5 times more than the third highest category—workers’ compensation, including employers’ liability.

Industry studies have estimated that almost a quarter of the bodily injury claims related to auto accidents are false.  In addition, there is almost a 10 percent fraud rate for property and casualty claims made against auto insurance.

This adds up to about $200-$300 per year in extra costs on each auto insurance premium.  But, these are just considered the direct costs.  As far as indirect costs, the Texas Department of Insurance estimates that they add up to about $1,000 per family each year.  These costs are the portion of inflated expenses that businesses have to pay to insurers as a result fraudulent crime. This portion translates into increased costs of goods and services that are passed along to consumers.

In addition, hard fraud, or when the insurable event is fabricated outright or a staged accident, appears to be on the rise and feeds into auxiliary hazards of auto insurance fraud.  Because staged car crashes often exploit people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, these victims unintentionally become involved in the accidents or in the subsequent series of events, which can have severe consequences such as injury or even death.

According to the Fox News story, there have been numerous incidents where staged accidents have spiraled out of control, resulting in critical injuries and fatalities.  Although the instigators of these types of accidents have been prosecuted, it does not end the motivation to engage in auto insurance fraud.

Overall, the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud estimates that the total cost of fraudulent claims is in the range of $80 billion annually. The group has found that claims tend to rise during difficult economic times, which was evident during the recent recession.

The NICB has a toll free hotline to report fraud anonymously for further investigation.  The number is 1-800-835-6422 or 1-800-TEL-NICB.

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2012), Insurance Fraud

Florida Hit-and-Run Accidents Jump in 2014

One out of four crashes in Florida now involves a hit-and-run driver, according to statistics recently released by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV).

Florida hit-and-run crashes increased by seven percent from 2013 to 2014, reaching a new high of more than 80,000 accidents. The three South Florida counties of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach collectively represent 40 percent of the statewide totals, according to the department.

The severity of hit-and-run accidents also appears to be increasing, with a 23 percent increase in hit-and-run fatalities in 2014 over 2013. Pedestrians are particularly at risk. Almost 50 percent of the 2014 hit-and-run fatalities were pedestrians, representing a jump of 17 percent over 2013.

An infographic published as DHSMV as part of Florida’s driver education campaign, “Hit & Run: Bad2Worse,” appears below.

Florida Hit & Run Accident Statistics 2014.

It is a first-degree felony to leave the scene of an accident when a fatality is involved, and a felony of the third degree when an accident results in an injury, according to law enforcement personnel. Leaving the scene of an accident involving property damage is a second-degree misdemeanor.

The Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, which became law in Florida last year, imposes a mandatory minimum prison sentence of four years for a driver convicted of leaving the scene of a crash resulting in the death of a person.

Click on the link for more information on Florida hit-and-run accidents from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

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Filed under Uncategorized