Category Archives: Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008)

Adjusters Unsure about Questionable Claims Delve into Accident Data

In an earlier FL-PIP Blog post titled “Accident Reconstructionists assist Insurance Adjusters in Uncovering Staged Accidents,” we reported how insurance companies may hire accident reconstructionists to analyze car crash data from police reports, photographs, incident descriptions, and repair records to help determine whether car accident claims are real or if crashes were staged.

A recent article in Property Casualty 360° took a look at common scenarios where accident reconstructionists provide input to insurance adjusters. A summary appears below.

Car Accident Scenario #1

The driver of a vehicle said another car hit him from behind when he was slowing for traffic. The other car did not stop to exchange information.

The claims adjuster, who photographed the damage, was suspicious because he thought the damage looked old, the vehicle had recently been added to the policy, and the claimant received a check a few months earlier on a different vehicle but with a similar story.

The data that the accident reconstructionist researched for the different model years and their variants found that the top of the bumper of these vehicles was always at or below 22 inches. It was also determined that the damage showed no signs of paint transfer. Using this information, the accident reconstructionist was able to definitively conclude that the damage seen on the vehicle did not match the driver’s testimony. The claims adjuster denied the claim in full.

Car Accident Scenario #2

Minor contact between the rear of a Chevrolet Malibu and the front of a Hyundai Elantra was reported with the scuff on the Elantra noted to be consistent with a sliding motion. Further investigation was called in uncovering that the Malibu was in a previous crash severe enough to be sold with a salvage title. No other details, including repair records, were available. The driver of the Malibu claimed that in addition to a small dented area on the right rear corner of the rear bumper cover, there was damage to the Malibu’s trunk area, more prominent on the left side of the vehicle.

The accident reconstructionist had test data run on an Elantra from the same model from a 3-mile-per-hour corner impact test and was able to determine that the damage for the Elantra involved in the incident is consistent with a collision at less than 4.2-miles-per-hour. A Conservation of Momentum analysis was then performed and found that an impact resulting in a Delta-V (the change in velocity of the vehicle from its pre-impact, initial velocity, to its post-impact velocity) of 4.2 miles per hour for the Hyundai Elantra would result in a Delta-V of 3.5 miles per hour for the Chevrolet Malibu.

Test data was obtained from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for the Chevrolet Malibu and it was determined that the claim was for more severe damage than was sustained and that the damage was partially in an area that was too far away from the actual point of contact.

It was found that not all of the claimed damages to the Malibu could be attributed to contact from the Elantra, and the insurance company subsequently denied all costs associated with the underlying damages.

Every case is unique, and claims with injuries will be treated differently.

Click on the link to read the full article, “Is that auto accident staged? Here’s how to tell.”

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008), Insurance Fraud

Chiropractor & Receptionist Connected to Operation Sledgehammer Get Prison Sentences

Convicted for their role in a massive insurance fraud ring involving staged accidents in South Florida, two more people were sentenced in Operation Sledgehammer last week.

Chiropractor Lawrence Schechtman from Parkland, whom we reported about on our FL-PIP Guide on December 19 when he pleaded guilty to mail fraud conspiracy and mail fraud, was sentenced to four years and four months in federal prison. In addition to his sentence, he was ordered by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra to pay more than $2.4 million in restitution.

According to federal prosecutors, Schechtman worked at clinics in Palm Springs and Miami, where he signed off on treatments for people who fraudulently claimed they were accident victims as part of the staged-accident ring which operated in several counties.

According to a story in the August 8 Sun-Sentinel, the 45-year old Schechtman, who suffers from heart and back problems, was granted a request to serve his confinement at the Federal Medical Center, a medical prison in North Carolina. Judge Marra gave the chiropractor two months to turn himself in and begin serving his term.

Another co-conspirator from Palm Springs was sentenced for her role in Operation Sledgehammer. Sircy Sacerio, also known as Sisi or Sircy Santos, received four years in federal prison by Judge Marra.

Under the terms of her sentence, the Palm Beach Post reported, the 31-year old reception and office assistant must also repay $1,146,824.26 and will have two years of supervised release following her time in prison.

She originally pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and five counts of mail fraud.

Part of the fraud activity in Operation Sledgehammer, which was recorded by investigators, included co-conspirators damaging vehicles with sledgehammers to give the appearance of a crash. The participants in the staged accidents would then go to clinics involved in the ring to receive bogus treatment which, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, brought in millions of dollar to chiropractors on false and fraudulent insurance claims. The scheme began around October 2006 and continued through December 2012.

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008), Insurance Fraud

Texting Laws Appear to Reduce Traffic Fatalities

States with primary enforcement laws against texting while driving appear to be having an impact on reducing traffic deaths, a new study released by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) – School of Public Health has found.

Primary enforcement means that there doesn’t have to be another reason for a police officer to stop a vehicle.

A recent Claims Journal article summarized some of the UAB findings, one of the most notable being a three percent decrease in fatalities among all age groups associated with states supporting primary texting bans. This translates to an average of 19 deaths prevented per year in states with such bans.

However, researchers revealed that states with secondary enforcement of texting bans (an officer must have another reason to stop a vehicle) didn’t see any real decrease in fatalities. Researchers also found bans on texting are most effective with young drivers, while bans on handheld cell phones are most effective with older adult drivers.

According to 2011 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 percent of U.S. drivers, aged 18-64 years, said that they had read or sent text or email messages while driving at least once in the 30 days prior. That year saw 3,331 fatalities and 387,000 injuries involving distracted drivers.

Using roadway fatality data captured in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System between 2000 and 2010, Alva O. Ferdinand, Dr.P.H., J.D., led the longitudinal panel study. She wanted to examine what impact texting laws have had on roadway crash-related fatalities and how variations in states’ laws affect those results to ultimately determine which laws are most beneficial in improving roadway safety.

Researchers’ results indicated that states with primary texting bans:

  • Were “significantly associated” with reduced traffic fatalities in all age groups
  • In all age groups, a 3 percent reduction in traffic deaths equates to 19 deaths prevented each year
  • Reduced fatalities 11 percent among 15- to 21-year olds when targeted to young drivers.

States with secondary enforced restrictions also saw no significant reduction in traffic fatalities. In addition, states that prohibit use of cell phones without hands-free technology saw significant reductions in fatalities among the 21- to 64-year old age group.

Ferdinand hopes the findings help policymakers implement laws that are most effective in reducing traffic deaths. Her results are published in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008)

State Farm Granted Summary Judgment in Lake Worth Chiropractic PIP Benefits Case

On July 14, 2014, the 15th Judicial Circuit for Palm Beach County affirmed a lower court decision granting summary judgment to State Farm in a claim for PIP benefits brought by Lake Worth Emergency Chiropractic Center.

In the underlying case, Judge Bosso-Pardo granted defendant’s Motion for Final Summary Judgment, entering final judgment for the defendant, State Farm, upon finding that the pre-suit demand letter, required by Florida Statute 627.736(10) (2010), was insufficient in that it demanded payment for services that were never billed to State Farm.

Judge Bosso-Pardo found that the Plaintiff’s “withdrawing” the unbilled service after suit had commenced was insufficient to cure the defect and that the demand letter requirements under Florida Statute 627.736(10) must be strictly construed and adhered to by those seeking to initiate litigation against a Florida PIP insurer.

The Circuit Court affirmed this decision, concluding that section 627.736(10) requires strict compliance and that, in this case, the demand letter did not strictly comply with the PIP statute requirements. As such, Lake Worth Emergency Chiropractic Center failed to satisfy the condition precedent to filing its law suit, and the trial court was correct in awarding final summary judgment in favor of State Farm.

The case is Lake Worth Emergency Chiropractic Center v. State Farm, in the Fifteenth Judicial Court for Palm Beach County, Case No. 502012AP000034XXXXMB. Click on the link to read the court opinion.

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Filed under Case Law, Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008)

Vehicular Arson Cases Climbing Nationwide

The slow economy could be contributing to an increase in claims involving auto fires, according to an official with the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

“Common sense tells you that more desperate people will take more desperate measures to get themselves out of trouble,” said Coalition representative James Quiggle in a News 4 I-Team report.

Cracking the case on vehicular arson is difficult to prove in court, as Maryland officials are discovering. Of more than 2,000 suspected auto arsons in the state during 2013, fewer than 50 cases had sufficient evidence to turn the matter over to prosecutors.

Findings from a 2009 report of the U.S. Fire Administration’s (USFA’s) National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) reveal the following:

  • Approximately 10 percent of all vehicle fires are intentionally set.
  • Intentional vehicle fires are at their highest during the summer, with a July peak.
  • Matches are the leading heat source (20 percent) of intentionally set vehicle fires.
  • Vehicle seats (34 percent) and uncontained fuel (14 percent) represent the starting point of many intentionally set vehicle fires.

Arson generally has a low clearance rate, according to crime reports from the U.S. Department of Justice. Arson involving motor vehicles, which represent 20 percent of all arson cases, have a particularly low closure rate of approximately 7.4 percent nationwide.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics indicate that motor vehicle arson may not be a major concern in the state, with fewer than 300 cases of auto arson reported for 2012.

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008), Insurance Fraud

More Than Half of Florida PIP Claimants Hire an Attorney

PIP claimants are increasingly being represented by legal counsel, according to a new study released by the Insurance Research Council (“IRC”) titled Attorney Involvement in Auto Injury Claims.

In 2012, the study notes that 36 percent of auto injury PIP claimants nationwide were represented by attorneys, compared to 31 percent in 2007. For bodily injury claims, representation rose slightly to 50 percent.

Compared to claimants without legal representation, PIP claimants with attorneys were found to have a greater likelihood of the following behavior:

  • Sought more treatment in a pain clinic, including MRIs
  • Experienced longer waiting times for claim payments
  • Collected lower net payments
  • Involved in alleged fraudulent claims

Historical trends from 1977 to the present are outlined in the IRC chart below.

Attorney_Involvement_Fig 1_cr

Attorney involvement was also measured by state. Florida ranked at the top of the list, with more than 50% of claimants represented. Kansas, where 12% of PIP claimants are represented, was the lowest ranking state.

Data is drawn from 12 participating insurers and 35,000 auto injury claims closed with payment under the five principal passenger coverage areas, according to survey sponsors.

Click on the link to read more about the Attorney Involvement in Auto Injury Claims study.

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008)

Another Staged Accident Story Reminds Drivers to be Alert to Florida Auto Insurance Scams

Florida State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, helped pass legislation in 2012 aimed at reducing the tremendous number of staged accidents and injuries in the state, and deter claims made after accidents in which victims had not even been present.

Once estimated as a billion-dollar industry in Florida due to the ease of receiving PIP payouts from insurance companies, Boyd’s changes helped strengthen requirements for medical evidence and stipulated that police reports list everyone involved, including all of the passengers.

Credited with reducing personal injury insurance costs and premiums, Boyd feels that the updated law put a dent in a serious problem where opportunistic scam artists still turn dents and dings into major injuries.

One such example of heavy-duty suspicions stemming from a marginal accident was featured in a recent Tom Lyons’ column in the Herald-Tribune.

In Lyons’ piece, a Sarasota retiree was supposedly involved in an accident when backing out of an on-street parking spot. This driver felt the accident was so small that he wasn’t even sure it happened. However, the driver of the other car claimed that he caused the collision and filed a police report. The retiree was issued a ticket.

He later found out from his insurance company that the woman driving the other car filed an insurance report claiming she and her passenger suffered trauma and were feeling pain in their neck, legs and back. The retiree says, “his insurance company is about to take a hit, but he’s not at all sure it is a legitimate one.”

Some unscrupulous staged accident rings rely on each other to carry out these scenarios to receive insurance reimbursement, according to the article. Although some parties face charges in the end, it isn’t easy to know when someone is faking an injury. It is even harder, as demonstrated in the retiree’s case, to prove the circumstances surrounding the injury are bogus.

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008), Insurance Fraud