Assemblyman Weprin on No Fault Fraud
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Deadly fraud on New York's roads
There are sharks on our roads criminals out to hit you with their vehicles. They'll smash into your car, fake injuries with the help of crooked doctors and then fraudulently bill insurance companies under the state's broken no-fault system.
It's one of the fastest-growing crimes in New York, and most victims never know they were unwitting accomplices to a crime.
New Yorkers have paid an estimated $1 billion in extra auto-insurance premiums over the last four years because of these scams. As if gas prices aren't bad enough, fraud is a big reason we now pay 53 percent more than the national average for auto insurance.
Some have lost their lives to these crooks.
Alice Ross, a 71-year-old wife and grandmother, was tragically killed in a staged auto accident in Queens committed by individuals hoping to cash in on the crash via fraudulent insurance claims.
On this tragic afternoon, the man responsible for the "accident," in collusion with three others, intentionally hit a car being driven by Mrs. Ross, causing her to lose control of the vehicle and strike a tree, resulting in her death. He was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in Queens Supreme Court.
No-fault-insurance fraud happens far more often than most New Yorkers realize. A study released last year, conducted by the Insurance Research Council, found that nearly a fifth of all no-fault claims in 2010 had elements of fraud.
The costs to the rest of us go beyond higher premiums and more dangerous roads. These fraudulent cases are also clogging our judicial system. One Brooklyn state Supreme Court judge recently called them "the hydrogen bomb that have hit the courts." The state's chief justice calls the flood of cases "unsustainable."
My bill in the state Assembly, supported by groups like New Yorkers Against Insurance Fraud, would impose tough criminal penalties on those who engage in staged accidents or who seek to defraud the system. It would give the system badly needed teeth to dissuade criminal gangs from perpetrating these crimes.
Just last month, authorities charged 36 people with racketeering and money laundering in the largest-ever fraud case involving the state's no-fault-insurance law. The ring sought to defraud private insurers of more than $279 million costs that would be passed onto consumers.
Under current law, no-fault insurers must pay up to $50,000 to a victim of an auto accident, regardless of fault, within 30 days. The No-Fault Law requires payment for medical treatment of those involved in car accidents, avoiding the need for claimants to file personal-injury lawsuits to get reimbursed.
While well-intended, these "reforms" invite fraud. Unscrupulous types game the system, arranging fake accidents and filing fake medical reports. Even if insurers learn that an accident was faked, they have no recourse to reclaim that money after the 30-day window. Criminal gangs are using this massive loophole in the law as a cash machine.
Staged auto accidents are serious. They inflict physical and economic harm and, in the case of my constituent, death. The perps actually prefer to target seniors like Alice Ross, who they believe are less likely to be confrontational or to dispute an accident.
We need to send a clear message to the crooks roving our streets and highways in search of a pay day at our expense. The state Senate has already passed "Alice's bill"; it's time to make it "Alice's law."
David Weprin (D) represents Assembly District 24 in Queens.
(reprinted from the New York Post)