After Hurricane Harvey, Texas officials will be on the lookout for insurance fraud – and for good reason. Property insurance fraud is very common after hurricanes and other natural disasters, and this drives up the premiums for property owners simply looking to protect their assets.
If you find yourself under investigation or facing charges, it is vital that you act quickly to get a knowledgeable insurance fraud lawyer. Texas takes insurance fraud very seriously, with most cases charged as either high-level misdemeanors or felonies, dependent upon the value of the claim and other circumstances surrounding the alleged fraud. If convicted you could face jail time, steep fines and a criminal record that impairs your freedom long after you’ve paid the fines and/or served the time.
There are a number of potential defenses you can use, but which one depends on the specifics of your particular situation. Still, it can be helpful to have a basic understanding of the various strategies out there, so below we are going to explain a bit about several of them.
To successfully convict someone of insurance fraud, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally filed a false or inflated claim with the intent to deceive the insurer and receive benefits for damages that were not incurred, or were manufactured. Most defenses for insurance fraud focus upon the intent to defraud, the actual falsity of the claim, and the defendant’s knowledge of falsity.
Lack of intent to deceive or defraud
To be convicted of insurance fraud, you must intentionally submit or otherwise communicate a false claim. If you did not intend to send the claim in its submitted form, your attorney may be able to argue that you did not intend to submit the false statement. For example, you may have sent the incorrect draft or version of the claim, or for an electronic claim may have pressed “submit” instead of “save.”
Lack of knowledge of falsity
To be convicted of insurance fraud, you must knowingly submit a false claim, and be aware that what you said or wrote on the claim was false. If you were unaware that any of the claim’s content was false, a lack of knowledge defense may be effective.
Most types of property insurance fraud after a hurricane involve a false statement of damages. However, if what you wrote on the claim was in your mind truthful, but was misinterpreted by the insurance company or law enforcement, an ambiguity defense may be effective. On this note, when filling out a claim, be very specific about damages to avoid the claim’s misinterpretation.
In some cases, you may not have actually filled out the fraudulent paperwork or committed the fraudulent act. Because insurance fraud is a paper-heavy crime, it may actually be difficult for prosecution to prove that you submitted the paperwork. Unless video surveillance, witnesses or other direct evidence are available, it is difficult for prosecution to prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you personally submitted the paperwork.
The defense of duress is used if you were forced to do something against your will, usually under the threat of serious physical harm to you or a loved one, or of blackmail. If you were provoked to commit insurance fraud by the threats of another party, a duress defense may be appropriate.
Again, if you or someone you care about are facing insurance fraud charges, it is imperative to involve an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney as early in the process as possible. This can ensure that your rights are protected during the investigation, and your attorney may even get your charges dropped before you are formally charged.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.