In the Lawrence (MA) Eagle-Tribune yesterday staff writer Chris Markuns' lead story discussed the dramatic reduction of fraudulent auto accidents in Massachusetts, and in the Lawrence, MA area specifically, since the state started cracking down on the practitioners last year.
A statewide crackdown on auto fraud, modeled after the city's get-tough initiative, reduced insurance claims by $253 million last year, the Auto Insurers Bureau of Massachusetts reports.
About $100 million of the amount came in Lawrence and five other urban communities in Massachusetts where law enforcement and insurance officials have been targeting fake accidents and false bodily injury claims.
"It's amazing," said Lawrence police Chief John Romero, who started a special task force two years ago after a 65-year-old great-grandmother was killed in a staged accident that police said she helped arrange.
"This has probably had the most pronounced effect of anything we've done in terms of (police) initiatives," he said.
Insurance claims and accident-related injuries in Lawrence last year plummeted well below even the most optimistic expectations of law enforcement and industry officials. The Auto Insurers Bureau data said the $19.8 million in claims in 2004 was the lowest in at least a decade and represents a $28.7 million drop since the peak year of 2002.
The decrease in injuries per 100 accidents in Lawrence was equally striking, falling from 141 and 134.4 in 2002 and 2003, respectively — more than three times the state average each year — to just 60.2 last year. That is considerably closer to the state average of 35.8, and officials say much of the difference is likely due to the higher rate naturally seen in urban communities.
The Eagle-Trib was a finalist for the recently awarded Associated Press Managing Editors (APME) award for public service for the investigative reporting on this story, a five-part series last year.
On the other hand a local state senator, Susan Tucker (D - Andover), was badgering to get insurance premiums dropped for the area now that fraud schemes are being smoked out. This was even before the data had come out. While I'd be more than happy to see the premiums drop, shouldn't we establish a slightly longer timeline for the trend.
The racket involved the "victims" obviously, and also a group of unscrupulous lawyers, chiropractors and therapists who would submit inflated bills. Once the bills reached a certain level then lawsuits could follow. So far 134 people have been charged.
This affected my practice, in that occasionally these individuals would find their way into my exam room. I'll tell you, it's very difficult to take care of people who have little or no injury, are vehemently insisting that they are injured despite evidence to the contrary, are either faking symptoms or amplifying those they may have, and are already represented by a crooked lawyer. If I don't dot every 'i' and cross every 't' I'm at risk for being sued. And, since it's an MVA (motor vehicle accident), payment for services rendered occurred years later, if at all. Can you say "waste of time?"
They couldn't clear this stuff up quick enough for me. Now if we can get similar progress on the fake slip and falls...