Florida’s 2017 hurricane season has been predicted to be one of the most severe in years, and Irma is just the beginning. The damage wrought by Irma and other potential storms will result in millions or even billions of dollars in property insurance claims.
Unfortunately, hurricane insurance fraud is on the rise in Florida, and is driving up the cost of insurance for Floridians everywhere. Therefore, the insurance companies will be on the lookout for insurance fraud following Irma, as will law enforcement.
Before you submit your insurance claim for any damage you suffered due to Irma, take some time to familiarize yourself with our state’s insurance fraud laws.
Types of Insurance Fraud
Hurricane insurance fraud occurs when victims (or purported victims) of a hurricane defraud insurance companies by filing false or exaggerated claims. The most common type of insurance fraud following a hurricane is property insurance fraud, wherein property owners file false or exaggerated claims for loss or damage of property.
Hard Insurance Fraud
Hard insurance fraud occurs when a policyholder files a completely fraudulent and deliberately fabricated claim. In some situations the loss or damage may not have occurred at all, while in others policyholders may deliberately damage property to falsify hurricane damages.
Hard insurance fraud is often caught when investigators find that no damages were actually incurred, or notice that supposed damages are manmade. Because the intent of hard insurance fraud is often clear, this may be harder to defend in court.
Soft Insurance Fraud
Soft insurance fraud, or opportunistic fraud, occurs when policyholders pad a legitimate claim, exaggerating the extent of the claimed loss or damage. This is often caught by insurance adjustors, who typically confirm damages prior to paying out on a policy. This type of insurance fraud may be more defensible, as policyholders could reasonably overestimate the extent of damages by mistake.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issues relief funds in the wake of catastrophic disasters, such as Hurricane Irma. FEMA also issues flood insurance to property owners, which is a common claim following any hurricane.
Although most FEMA claims are legitimate, property owners or policyholders may also attempt to defraud FEMA by filing fraudulent, duplicate, or exaggerated claims. Importantly, this is considered to be federal fraud, and is automatically charged as a felony.
How Florida Insurance Fraud Is Charged
The penalties for insurance fraud in Florida are more severe than in many other states. For example, soft insurance fraud is tried as a misdemeanor in most states, while in Florida the vast majority of insurance fraud cases are tried as felonies. Federal charges are even more severe than state charges in Florida, so insurance fraud is very serious. The extent to which insurance fraud is charged and punished in Florida depends upon the amount of the claim.
Fraud involving property valued under $20,000 is charged as a third degree felony. If the property is valued from $20,000-$100,000, insurance fraud is charged as a second degree felony. If the property is valued at $100,000 or more, the offender is charged with a first degree felony. Sentencing may vary from case to case, but can include state or federal prison time and fines of tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
If You Are Accused of Insurance Fraud
Regardless of the extent of the fraud in question, insurance fraud is a very serious charge, particularly in Florida. If you have been accused of insurance fraud or are under investigation, consult with a criminal defense attorney as early in the process as possible. This will ensure that your rights are protected, and give your case the best possible chance of a favorable outcome.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.