How to recognize, prevent, and respond to a fake slip and fall so you don’t end up footing the bill for a fraudulent claim.
Slip and fall accidents cause a significant amount of injury and death in the United States. In 2019 alone, nearly 40,000 people died in falls at home and work, according to the National Safety Council.¹
The severity of the problem should not blind us to the fact that there are still people faking injuries with the goal of making a fast buck.
The number of fake slip and fall cases is on the rise. Nearly 6,500 “questionable” incidents were reported in one year alone.²
Scammers fake slip and fall injuries because they think they can get easy money. In other words, they use a homeowner’s or business’s insurance policy as a “deep pocket” from which they can steal with no consequences.
Of course, there are consequences. Insurance policyholders face higher premiums. People actually injured from slip and falls suffer because others suspect them of fraud. Legitimate injury victims have difficulties resolving their claims and lawsuits because of the cloud of suspicion raised by fake fall claims.
As a homeowner or business owner, you can’t stop every fraudulent slip and fall claim. What you can do, though, is protect yourself and your business. You do this by working with your insurance company to identify and dispose of fraudulent injury claims.
This article will take a look at fake slip and fall accidents and how to identify them. We’ll also identify steps you can take to prevent these fraud attempts and collect evidence after a false claim arises. Finally, we’ll talk about working with your insurance company and responding to a lawsuit if it comes to that.
Identifying Fake Slip and Fall Accidents
The first step in fighting fake injury claims is to know what they look like.
At first blush, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a faker and someone who has genuinely been hurt in an accident. This is particularly true if you’re dealing with someone who is experienced in pulling off these kinds of scams.
There there are some warning signs of fake claims to look out for.
Red flags include:
- Immediately after an accident, the “victim” is more concerned with assigning blame than dealing with injuries.
- The “victim” declines medical attention or fails to provide medical records as part of the negotiation process.
- A public records search shows that the “victim” has filed several lawsuits or is known as a vexatious litigant.
- The accident happens in a place that is out of view of surveillance video cameras or other monitoring equipment.
- The accident has zealous or emphatic witnesses. (Sometimes, fraudsters can work in groups with one acting as a victim and others acting as witnesses.)
What is a vexatious litigant?
Vexatious litigants are people who habitually abuse the civil litigation system to harass people by bringing baseless lawsuits. Often, a judge makes the determination that someone is a vexatious litigant.
Some states, like California, maintain lists of vexatious litigants and may require that their lawsuits show some merit before even considering them.
Stopping Fake Injury Claims
Businesses and other places open to the public have a powerful tool to stop false claims in their tracks: video.
The internet is filled with stories of people attempting to fake slip and fall injuries being caught on video. In 2019, for example, a New Jersey man was caught on video throwing ice on the floor at his company and then staging a fake slip and fall.
Historically, homeowners have been at a disadvantage on this front. Surveillance systems are costly and, therefore, not as common in homes. With the advent of cheaper electronic equipment, though, this is beginning to change. Today, many homeowners have installed internet-connected doorbells that record footage of the area outside one’s front door.
This capability isn’t only limited to doorbells. There are several methods of obtaining in-home surveillance video footage that can also protect against fake slip and fall claims.
Caution! Be careful what you do with home security surveillance.
While surveillance cameras and recordings are nice things to have, be careful not to run afoul of state, local, or federal laws when using them. Though you may generally have the right to record what is happening in your own home, remember that guests have a reasonable expectation of privacy in some places, particularly in bedrooms and bathrooms.
Also keep in mind that using cameras in a way that captures what is happening on someone else’s property (e.g. a neighbor’s property) is probably not going to be legal.
Finally, with regard to audio recordings, remember that while some states allow you to record a conversation without a participant’s knowledge, several don’t.
Apart from video and audio recordings, many fake slip and fall accidents can also be prevented with increased vigilance. Set up and staff your property in a way that it would be very difficult for a scammer to set the scene for a fake injury.
For example, positioning staff and cameras so that all areas of the property are monitored will deter and catch any scammers. You’ll be less likely to have trouble if you take away the opportunity for a scam to even begin.
What to Do If a Claim Is Made Against You
Of course, despite our best intentions and preparation, sometimes the worst can happen.
Someone may try to fake a slip and fall at your home or business. If this happens, don’t panic. There are several steps you can take to fight back and make sure justice is done.
1. Tell Your Insurance Company and Work With Them
Before anyone else, make sure your insurer knows what happened. Most insurance policies require that you provide notice to the company of a potential insurance claim as soon as possible.
Failure to report a claim in a timely manner, even a false insurance claim, can be the basis for a denial. While this may seem harsh, homeowners’ insurance companies and business liability carriers need the information as soon as possible to preserve evidence and get to the truth.
You’re not done after you report the insurance claim. You also have a duty to cooperate with your insurance company. This means that you have to assist the insurance adjuster with investigating and collecting evidence about the claim. If you don’t do what is necessary to help, the company can deny your claim outright.
While this may sound like an adversarial process (and sometimes it can be), here you’re on the same side. Neither you nor the insurance company benefits from a scammer making a fraudulent claim against your policy. In this type of case, have a frank conversation with your insurer about what to do, and work together closely.
Also keep in mind that, because insurance fraud is a crime, cooperating with your insurance company may mean working with law enforcement as well.
2. Watch Out for Lawsuits
The worst-case scenario for a fake slip and fall claim is that you or your business wind up in a lawsuit. If that happens, don’t panic. You have already started working with your insurance company, so tell them the moment you receive any legal paperwork. Your insurance company will have connections with local attorneys and will usually pay for your legal defense.
Once you have an attorney representing you, listen to their advice about how to proceed. Depending on the evidence, they may suggest that you fight the case in court and attempt to get it dismissed.
As a practical matter, the attorney and insurance adjuster may agree to pay a nuisance value settlement to get rid of the claim.
What is “nuisance value”?
Nuisance value can change a bit depending on circumstances. It usually means a small amount of money that an insurance company will pay to make a questionable claim go away.
For example, let’s say a scammer slips and falls at a grocery store and claims $25,000 in damages. They have no medical bills or evidence to support their claim. The insurance company could easily fight the claim in court and win, but it would cost $1,000 to do so. Instead, they might make a nuisance value offer of $500 to make the scammer drop their claim.
If the person attempting to scam you has filed other baseless lawsuits before, you may want to discuss having the court name the person a vexatious or abusive litigant, or even bringing a Rule 11 motion for sanctions. If you succeed, you may restrict the scammer’s ability to file more lawsuits in the future.
As part of one of these motions, you may also get an award of attorney fees. Keep in mind that when an insurance company is paying your legal bills, you will not receive attorney fees directly. Rather, they will go to the attorney and your insurance company will get the benefit of not having paid those funds.
Help Yourself and Fight Insurance Fraud
Fake slip and fall claims don’t just hurt the people and businesses targeted. They hurt all of us who bear the cost of increased insurance premiums. And they hurt legitimate injury victims, who can be unfairly perceived as scammers themselves. Therefore, it is critical to stop this slip-and-fall fraud wherever we find it.
If you or your business has been targeted by a fake slip and fall scam, notify your insurance company as soon as possible. If you don’t have insurance or your insurance does not provide you with a legal defense, you have options. Speak with a qualified personal injury attorney or law firm in your state for a free consultation and case evaluation.
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