Hillsborough County takes bold step in stamping out PIP fraud

Kudos to Hillsborough County commissioners for cracking down on medical clinics that have helped criminals commit staged accidents and file fraudulent Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims.

An ordinance passed on Sept. 21, 2011, requires medical and rehabilitation clinics to designate a physician who actively practices there. That person must put his or her name on the clinic’s bank accounts and liability insurance. The county would have the right to inspect the clinics as necessary.

The new requirement closes a loophole in state law that exempts clinics from licensing rules when a clinic puts a physician’s name on its business application.

Tampa led Florida and was second in the nation with 487 staged accidents in 2010, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Only Brooklyn, New York, had more accidents in which the perpetrators caused cars to collide so that false claims for damage and injury could be filed. Under Florida law, each person in a car accident can claim up to $10,000 in PIP benefits for injuries and lost wages.

Phony medical clinics had become rampant in Hillsborough County. In April 2010, the sheriff’s office issued arrest warrants for 22 people accused of insurance fraud. The organizers had recruited people for accidents and coached them what to say to deputies.

Undercover detectives found four medical clinics that existed just to file phony claims. The sheriff’s office estimated that there were another 164 other similar clinics in the county.

Insurance agents told commissioners that PIP insurance premiums were rising rapidly because of fraud, according to Tampa Bay Online/Tampa Tribune.

“Since 2008 I’ve had to reduce my staff by 45 percent,” said insurance agency owner Jeanette Foley. “I cannot get companies to write policies. It’s the PIP fraud that’s causing all this to happen.”

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