INSURANCE FRAUD IN CALIFORNIA
Fraud occurs when a firm, corporation, partnership, association, or any person acting in an individual capacity knowingly lies to obtain a benefit or advantage to which they would not otherwise be entitled to, or knowingly denies a benefit that is due to an entitled individual. Insurance fraud covers many areas, including automobile insurance fraud, property damage fraud, Workers’ Compensation fraud, as well as healthcare fraud.
Auto insurance fraud is one of the more common types of fraud, in that the State of California requires every driver to either maintain automobile liability insurance or post a sufficient financial responsibility bond to cover issues of automobile liability insurance. Liability for auto insurance fraud is covered under the Penal Code of the State of California, specifically, §§548, 549, 550 and 551, which make it illegal to file a fraudulent claim with an automobile insurance company. These code sections include issues of purposely damaging, abandoning, or disposing of an automobile in order to submit a claim. In addition, it is a crime to refer an individual to an auto repair shop or medical provider, knowing that the professional would thereafter submit a fraudulent auto insurance claim.
California Penal Code §550 specifically covers numerous items of unlawful conduct, including the following:
- Knowingly submitting a false or fraudulent claim for insurance benefits;
- Knowingly presenting multiple claims for the same loss or injury;
- Knowingly causing or participating in a vehicular collision;
- Knowingly presenting a false or fraudulent claim for the payment of a loss or theft, destruction, damage or conversion of a motor vehicle;
- Knowingly preparing any writing, with the intent to present it in support of a false or fraudulent claim.
These are just a few of the items or elements of insurance fraud covered by Penal Code §550. As auto insurance fraud is covered by the Penal Code, it can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending upon the circumstances of the event, as well as any prior history of the claimant. If the matter is charged as a misdemeanor, a defendant can be sentenced to up to six (6) months in jail, be required to pay a fine, as well as make restitution to the insurance company. If filed and convicted as a felony, a defendant may be sent to prison for up to five (5) years, plus other collateral punishment that may apply.
Auto insurance fraud is a specific intent crime, and if there was no intent to defraud the insurer, there would be no criminal liability. Absent the intent to deceive an insurer, one does not commit a crime, even though some element of a claim can be technically false.
Auto insurance fraud can not only be perpetrated by presenting a false claim to the insurance company, but individuals may also be victims of staged auto collisions which would constitute automobile fraud. Sudden stops by a vehicle in front, for no apparent reason; having a vehicle swoop in front, causing you to brake suddenly, resulting in a rear end collision; a vehicle forcing you to remain in your lane to not avoid a collision; stuffing passengers into a vehicle who were not there at the time of the collision; and individuals allowing you the right of way, then purposely causing a collision. These are just several examples of staged auto collisions which can result in claims of auto insurance fraud.
Whether you are a victim of insurance fraud, or are in a position to present a valid insurance claim for injuries and damages, you should seek a qualified and experienced attorney to assist with your claim. Heiting & Irwin is comprised of an experienced group of injury attorneys who can assist victims of automobile accidents.