If you've recently been involved in an auto accident, you're not alone -- insurance companies estimate that the average driver will be involved in an an accident about once every 18 years, or a handful of accidents over the course of a driving lifetime. However, in some cases, allegations of fraud (either in the extent of the injuries you suffered or in the amount of damage to your vehicle) could lead to misdemeanor charges against you and the potential denial of your insurance claim. Read on to learn more about the factors that can lead to a misdemeanor charge of insurance fraud, as well as what you can do to fight against these charges and potentially clear your name.
What situations can give rise to charges of insurance fraud?
Most insurance fraud is deemed "soft" fraud, and classified as a misdemeanor. This "soft" fraud can include exaggeration of injuries or damage to your vehicle or attempts to mislead insurance investigators as to what happened (for example, arguing that the other driver was at fault or not paying attention when you're certain your actions caused the accident). You may also be charged with misdemeanor insurance fraud if you seek medical treatment for an issue or injury unrelated to the accident and attempt to lump this treatment in with your insurance claim.
"Hard" insurance fraud is generally classified as a felony and usually involves purposeful generation of an insurance claim -- for example, cutting in front of another car traveling at high speed and stopping short to ensure the driver hits you. This fraud is generally easier to prove than soft fraud and usually carries a much harsher penalty.
What are your potential defenses if you're charged with misdemeanor insurance fraud?
Successfully demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that you've committed insurance fraud can be a tough job for prosecutors, so if these charges have been levied against you, it's likely that a strong case has been built. To successfully defend against these charges, you'll need to cast enough doubt on the prosecution's evidence to prevent the judge (or jury) from convicting -- either by introducing eyewitnesses who can testify as to what happened (and contradict testimony offered by the prosecution's witnesses) or providing physical evidence of your injuries or property damage.
Alternatively, you may want to explore the option of a plea bargain. In many cases, particularly if you don't have a criminal history, you'll be able to negotiate a dismissal of charges in exchange for a period of probation or a fine -- ensuring you don't end up with a misdemeanor conviction on your record.
For more information, contact Abom & Kutulakis LLP or a similar firm.