Saturday, December 1, 2012

On the Defense Against the Offense of Fraud

In many ways, South Florida is a wonderful place to live. Beautiful beaches, a warm ocean, mild temperatures in the winter. But South Florida is also, I'm convinced, the fraud capital of the nation. It is truly amazing how rampant fraud is, and even more incredible is the fact that people seem to repeatedly get away with it. By fraud, I am referring to fraudulent lawsuits and there is one particular nationality, very common to South Florida, that is responsible for many of the fraudulent lawsuits. How do I know this? Because I have (or, more specifically, my family has) been the victim of (completely ridiculous) false claims by people who are blatantly attempting to take advantage of the American Judicial System, when, by all accounts, they are not even United States citizens! 

Around 2007, a gentleman who hailed from a island nation somewhere south of here repeatedly stopped by my husband's family business looking for a job. Due to his persistence and seeming willingness to work, they hired him to work in the yard, washing boats and doing odd jobs at the marine store.  He wasn't the greatest worker in the world - once he was seen attempting to clean a toilet using Round-Up weed killer and occasionally he would take naps and use the heads in the boats that he was supposed to be cleaning, but he showed up for work every day. His father passed away while he was working for the guys, and they loaned him $2,000 to fly back to his homeland and bury his father. 

Shortly after his trip home, this man (whose name ironically contains a syllable that sounds a lot like "fraud") accidentally kicked a metal ladder while boarding a boat, cutting a half-inch gash in his big toe. Learning that the man was injured, my brother-in-law immediately drove him to our family doctor, who stitched the wound and dressed it, recommending that he stay off of his feet for a week. He was given a week off of work, no questions asked. He returned to work the following week and seemed fine. The next day, he told the guys that his foot still hurt. They took him back to the doctor, who said that the wound had healed nicely and that if he was still having pain, he should see a specialist. After that, he stopped showing up for work. Months passed without a word. The phone number the guys had for him had been disconnected. There was no way to reach him.

A few months later, the store was served with papers stating that a Workman's Compensation Claim was being filed against them. The man was now claiming that he was seriously injured from the cut on his foot. That attorney ended up dropping the case after discovering that the marine store did not deal with boats exceeding 120 feet in length. Seems the motivation to represent the plantiff was based on the belief that the "Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act" (which only applies to businesses dealing with extremely large vessels) applied. Thank the good Lord above that it didn't, because that would have completely destroyed the business. In any case, the fact that the attorney dropped the case seems to speak volumes. A few months later, he hired another attorney to defend him, asking for compensation for medical bills. My husband explained that he had been asking the man for copies of his medical bills, which he had never been able to produce. That attorney was unable to obtain medical records and eventually dropped the case because the man showed up at his office shirtless one day and proceeded to scream at his receptionist.  After hiring attorney number three (some 3 1/2 years after the incident), the man was able to (miraculously) produce medical records from a doctor that nobody had ever heard of, each of which was signed differently, indicating that the injury was far more serious than initially thought. (To refresh your memory, the injury was a half-inch cut on his big toe.) 

Over the next few years, the man would find numerous other attorneys to take his case on  (I believe he is currently on number six), seeking damages as high as six figures...FOR A HALF-INCH cut on his big toe. His story has changed with each attorney hired, and eventually included a claim that after cutting his toe, he fell into a pool of acid (?) burning his back and causing a severe skin rash. (Because there are random pools of acid laying around boat yards at all times?) Oh, did I mention that he stated, before a judge, that this happened when he was asked to wash a boat while carrying an umbrella during a hurricane [because the business stays open during a hurricane?]. Uh-huh. Worst part about it is that the judge questioned the validity of his story, yet still ruled in favor of the plantiff, insisting that the defendants were responsible for his [falsified] medical bills plus three months of pay [for the time he didn't show up for work or get in touch with his employers].

Each lawsuit has resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees on my family's part during the worst time financially in the history of our business. Does that sound fair? I don't think so! Is he finished? I seriously doubt it. Why stop now, when he can continuously find a new attorney to represent him? Ironically, there was a lull in the lawsuits during a brief period when lawyers could not legally recoup the plaintiff's legal fees from the defendant.

As we await the next wave from that set of lawsuits, my 16-year-old daughter, who started driving in August, had her first accident in October. She was backing out of a parking space in her high school parking lot, turned the wheel too sharply and scraped the car parked next to her. As soon as the two cars met, she stopped and pulled forward. The school patrolman was there, so a police report was filed (thank God). The other kid didn't have his driver's license or insurance information with him. My daughter was at fault (no doubt about that), but the officer let the other driver off the hook, in spite of not producing identification. My daughter's car had paint scrapes on the corner of the bumper, but that's it. She said there was no significant damage to the other car, just paint scrapes. The following week, we started receiving calls from our insurance company about the accident. Not only had a damage claim been filed (which we expected), but the claimant had also hired an attorney to represent him, claiming bodily injury. As soon as I read the claimant's last name (which, ironically, means "beloved" en Français) [Beloved, mon cul!], I knew exactly what we were dealing with. Can a person be seriously injured when another car, moving from a stationary position, lightly scrapes the side of their car at perhaps 2-3 miles per hour? Seriously?!

Once again, we were on the defense. My husband called the insurance company and explained what had happened. The accident report stated that both drivers denied that any injuries had been sustained and that the damage was minimal. The agent explained that sometimes injuries can arise after the accident. My husband explained that this was not a violent collision between two cars - it was one car barely moving against the other vehicle, which was not moving at all. He asked if the insurance company happened to have a fraud department. He faxed the police report to them and hoped for the best. 

Yesterday, we received another letter from our insurance company stating that an attorney for the insurance company would be representing us, per the terms of our policy. How absurd is it that an attorney had to be retained in the first place?! How fundamentally wrong is it that an attorney would take this kid's case, considering the circumstances?

How are we, as American citizens, allowing this to happen? I truly don't understand it. We are certainly not the only victims of this type of fraud. It is rampant in South Florida. In my opinion, any non-U.S. citizen that commits fraud should be deported immediately and never allowed back on our shores. I am disgusted by the fact that circumstances have tainted my opinion of a group of people, but they truly have. I was in line at Lowe's one day when a gentleman in line behind me handed me his business card. He was a handyman who happened to have the same last name as my husband's former worker. Yeah, fat chance I'm going to let you onto my property with tools! When a person of this nationality offers to help me out with my groceries at Publix, I politely decline. I don't want to risk a lawsuit because my cardboard 12-pack of Coke Zero caused a paper cut that miraculously turned into necrotizing fasciitis. 

I have visited the nation from which these people emigrated. It is a beautiful place geographically (see photo below), but it is extremely corrupt politically. I can understand why people would want to leave, but I wish they would leave the corruption and dishonesty behind and make a fresh start.

How (and when?!) will the cases end? Only time will tell. Be wary and drive defensively, my fellow South Floridians. 

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy

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