Scams: Fake Slip & Fall Suits Cost Billions
Four Steps: Slip, Trip, Fall, Collect
Slip-and-fall lawsuits represent the lion’s share of accidents that come across an insurance adjuster’s desk. The reason behind that statistic is obvious: if you are at the back of the store when no one else is around, and the store owner hasn’t installed surveillance cameras, it’s nothing for slip-and-fall crooks to open the jar of water they carry in their pockets, dump it on the floor and pretend to fall. Usually quite loudly and heavily and to the subsequent accompaniment of full-throated groans and/or piercing cries of pain.
Trip-and-fall lawsuits are even easier to engineer; there is no water to carry and dump. Instead, shoppers in the above-described circumstance simply pick an item off the shelves, drop it on the floor, and “trip” over it.
Insurance fraud costs insured individuals more than $40 billion per year. This works out to between $400 and $700 per family per year in the United States, the cost almost entirely in the form of rising premiums. Unfortunately, these increasing costs, and the antics that result in them – some worthy of an Academy Award – are not confined to a particular demographic. They run the gamut from little old grandmother types to big burly men who look like they wouldn’t cry out if you skewered them through both kidneys.
According to the National Floor Safety Institute, three percent of slip and fall claims are faked. It may seem like a small percentage, until one considers the fact that claims and litigation in this area amount to almost $2 billion a year – less than the FBI estimate but only because a specific fraud is targeted.
Isabel Parker, Philly’s Slip-and-Fall Queen
By and large, these scammers are not the brightest bulbs on the shelf. For example, 72-year-old Isabel Parker, nominated Philadelphia’s “Slip-and-Fall Queen, paid for her gambling habit by filing 49 claims against various merchandisers (including supermarkets and liquor stores) between 1993 and 2000.
She made more than $500,000, and would have spent almost 2.5 years in prison if her lawyer hadn’t thrown her on the mercy of the court as an addict – she couldn’t stay away from the gaming establishments. Perhaps it was a blessing that she was elderly and somewhat slow getting around, else she might have needed a cool million.
How Business Owners Protect Themselves
In addition to business liability insurance – and a business umbrella policy if you, the businessperson, can afford it in these difficult times – install the aforementioned surveillance cameras and use them.
But don’t think you have the problem licked. First, you can’t film a dressing room or a rest room (or other private area), and you will never have the money set up a 24/7 digital recording studio to tape everything and keep the recordings. At least not until you are in the same league as big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target.
You can, however, post notices at conspicuous locations around the store informing customers that they are being taped. Honest people may be a tad irked, but the truly larcenous will leave your premises to find someone more gullible.
For those who can’t afford more than a single camera over the cash registers, there are clues that tip store owners to the activity of fraudsters. For example, if there is a half-year delay between the supposed injury and the report, you might want to ask the individual what he or she has been doing to survive the last six months. This is especially true if the injuries appear to be highly exaggerated, if the purported victim is using medical suppliers who have dubious reputations in their own right, or if the injured refuses to meet with you or your insurance adjustor for an interview.
Insurance fraud has almost become a way of life in the U.S. In fact, during particularly difficult financial times, like now, filing fake slip-and-fall accidents are the only way some people stay afloat, but that doesn’t make it right. Before you decide for yourself, however, you may want to view an ABC News video asking people if they would report a scammer if they witnessed the behaviors described.
You might be surprised at the answers.