Volume 2 Number 18
May 2, 2005










TEXT VERSION



 

 

FLORIDIANS WHO PARTICIPATE IN A STAGED CRASH STAND TO LOSE LICENSE UNDER FAST-TRACK PROCESS

Florida drivers who participate in a staged crash, regardless of whether they file a fraudulent insurance claim, not only face a minimum of two years in prison but now also stand to lose their driving privilege if convicted. 

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher delivered to Fred Dickinson, Executive Director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, investigative files on 22 individuals whose licenses will be revoked under a fast-track process arranged by the two departments.  The individuals named in the files have been convicted of participating in staged crashes that defrauded insurers of more than $200,000. 

“These fraud schemes are a drain on our economy, but they also pose a very serious threat to public safety,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services.  “These individuals are driving on our roads looking for an accident.  We’re going to do everything we can to get them off the road.”

Under Florida law, anyone who uses a vehicle in the commission of a felony – whether as a driver or a passenger – can have his/her license revoked.  A law enacted in 2003 made organizing or participating in a staged crash a second-degree felony punishable by a minimum mandatory two-year sentence.  So far, more than 70 people have been charged under that new law.

With this new fast-track process, the DHSMV will administratively suspend the driving privileges of those charged with a qualifying offense.  The department’s fraud division is expected to make more than 200 auto insurance fraud arrests this year.

“The people of Florida are the primary beneficiaries in this process,” Dickinson said.  “We intend to use the law to the fullest extent and put an end to these fraudulent crashes and claims.”

In the last five years, the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud has arrested more than 900 people in connection with at least $25 million in auto insurance fraud.  It is estimated that auto insurance fraud costs the average Florida family as much as $250 a year in higher premiums and higher costs for goods and services.

Florida drivers are required to carry a minimum of $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance coverage and $10,000 in property damage coverage.  By staging crashes, the planners and participants – usually in connection with unscrupulous medical clinic owners – fraudulently bill auto insurance companies for medical treatments that never happened or were unnecessary.

Gallagher this year is promoting legislation to address the latest spin on PIP fraud – crashes that never happen.  The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Dean Cannon and Sen. J.D. Alexander, would extend the two-year mandatory sentence to anyone convicted of filing a fabricated accident report.  These “paper” and “phantom” accidents occur when someone reports a crash that never happened or reports a hit-and-run accident based on pre-existing damage.

The legislation, House Bill 967 and Senate Bill 2330, also would require medical clinics to post the department’s Fraud Buster hotline number and reward program information. 

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers' compensation insurance.  Anyone with information about this case or another possible fraud scheme should call the department's fraud hotline at 1-800-378-0445.  A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Lake County, the 43rd county, was established  May 27, 1887, being taken from Orange and Sumter counties and named for the large number of lakes within its boundaries. The courthouse, above, was built in 1924.