Pain, Your Car and Your Wallet: What do They Have in Common?

You must agree this is a very strange title for an article on chronic pain by a pain doc. However, you will soon realize that there is a very strong connection between pain, your wallet and your car.

Symptom fabrication (making up symptoms) has emerged as a serious issue in car accidents (and of course chronic pain is claimed to be a major problem in these cases). I am using excerpts from a chapter (#9, 2003, 2006) in my book BEYOND PAIN”. “In our neighbours to the South, in 1988, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) initiated a Fraudulent Claims Program, trying to look more closely at the $53 million U.S. the state makes in yearly payments for about 15, 000 personal injury claims.

The FBI got involved in suspicious claims. For example in one serious public transit accident, seven passengers filed claims for injuries sustained in the crash, but only one passenger was found to be in the vehicle at the time of the accident. The other six allegedly injured passengers were indicted for fraud by a grand jury. A 73-year-old doctor was sentenced to 15 months in jail and fined $100,000 US dollars for providing false testimony. Once it became known that SEPTA was after cheaters, injury claims against the authority fell by 60 per cent and lawsuits by 50 per cent, resulting in multimillion dollar savings for the financially strapped transit agency.

In another American story, one small New Jersey bus company was plagued by injury claims for fender bender type accidents. The company asked the New Jersey Insurance Fraud Division to investigate, and in “Operation Bus Roulette”, the fraud division actually staged 10 minor bus accidents throughout New Jersey. They were all videotaped and Connie Chung, then with CBS, with her Eye To Eye team participated in one of the crashes. The Eye To Eye Undercover Report was aired in August 1992 and showed 17 members of the public walking by the crash site, entering the bus after the accident. All 17 later submitted claims for injuries, ranging from $30,000 to $400,000 U.S. per claim. Operation Bus Roulette caught more than 100 people ripping off insurance companies, including 10 doctors and four lawyers”.

If you think we are immune here in Canada from car frauds, dream on! “Project Slip” was launched by the Toronto Police in the summer of 2000, with 35 people charged, including five doctors. This was a multimillion dollar insurance scam for staged car accidents and tumbles in buses and streetcars. In another case, the police launched Canada’s biggest auto insurance fraud investigation ever. This discovered a large Toronto auto insurance fraud ring responsible for 257 suspicious claims worth $10 million Canadian and more than 60 staged car accidents. Fifty four people were involved including physicians and chiropractors (#9, BEYOND PAIN, 2003, 2006).

In January 13, 2012, City News reported that a man pleaded guilty in the University Avenue Courthouse in Toronto to fraud of $1.5M. This man in 2007 had a company that cruised salvage yards for wrecked cars that were written off. Then a licensed mechanic would supply false safety certificates and members of the group would crash these cars in city streets “creating accidents”. Project Green Light charged altogether 34 people in this scam.

In February 2012, “Project Whiplash” led to 37 arrests of people primarily from the South Asian/ Tamil community in early morning raids in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). A total of 130 charges stemmed from 77 staged collisions (The Toronto Star, February 23, 2012). Many of those charged were working as paralegals or operators of rehabilitation or medical clinics and prayed on immigrants of the same community with few English language skills.

The Star provided some more interesting information as follows: The auto insurance fraud costs Ontarians $1.3 billion a year, accounting for 10-15% of the premiums (Auditor General of Ontario). GTA holds the enviable title of the “staged collision capital of Canada (Rick Dubin, VP Investigative Services, Insurance Bureau of Canada). State Farm Insurance alone lost 4 $M in the Project Whiplash scam. False claims have escalated in the last five years, so that auto insurance fraud is “extensive, increasing and having a substantial impact on auto insurance premiums” (Ontario Auto-insurance Anti-fraud Task Force).

Mind you, almost all the “injuries” stemming from such staged accidents are soft tissue injuries associated with “pain”.

So, next time you look at the new increase in your car insurance premiums, connect the dots: pain, wallet and car!

Angela Mailis Gagnon, MD, MSc, FRCPC(PhysMed)
Director, Comprehensive Pain Program,
Senior Investigator, Krembil Neuroscience Centre
Toronto Western Hospital,
Chair ACTION Ontario