When it comes to fraud in workers comp, we usually look to employers, doctors and lawyers. They go after the big bucks. While there are opportunities for ordinary workers to exploit the system, most decline to do it. Today we examine two claims, both involving real injuries and both involving fraud. Coincidentally, it's a bi-coastal story.
Let's begin in the east, in Gardner, Massachusetts, where Erik Teong managed a Shell Station. On October 28, 2006, Teong reported to Gardner police that he had been assaulted and robbed while taking cash receipts to the bank. He sported a bruised face and injured eye.
The police did not buy his story. He eventually confessed to stealing the $7,000 deposit. In February 2007 he was charged with larceny and making a false report of a crime. In April, he pled guilty to both charges and was sentenced to one year of probation. He also must pay the insurance company $7,900 (to repay the "stolen" payroll).
The injury to his eye? Teong told police that he had a friend give him a hard punch to the face, to make his story more credible. The hapless Teong has permanently damaged his vision. And because the injury appeared to occur in the course of employment, Teong filed a comp claim. AIG, the comp insurer (with a few problems of their own!), paid his $16,000 medical fees and $3,000 indemnity. Now AIG wants its money back. They referred the matter to the fraud bureau, which led to Teong's indictment by a Worcester County grand jury.
So Teong has earned himself a place in the Hall of Fame for Incompetent Criminals. He botched the fake robbery. His friend all-too-convincingly smashed him in the face. He has to repay the medical expenses and ill-gotten indemnity. And to top it off, given his permanently impaired vision, he may have trouble reading the charges against him.
Now let's hop across the continent to the Lake Tahoe, where Nicholas Jason Beaver resides. Nick worked for the Sierra-at-Tahoe resort, but busy as a Beaver he was not: the resort told him they would not rehire him for the following season. One night, after a few beers with his buddies, Nick decided to get even. He decided get himself injured on the job.
On April 9, 2004 Nick jumped up and down on a snow bridge that covered the top of percolation test hole. After three or four jumps, he broke through the bridge and fell into the 5 foot deep hole, injuring his knee. He collected comp (the injured knee required surgery) and then decided to sue the resort: he wanted to pierce comp's "exclusive remedy" shield due to the resort's "extreme negligence" in allowing an "unprotected" hole to exist on their grounds. (Nick's story belongs in the burgeoning archives defining the word "chutzpah.") The resort spent $40,000 defending itself and over $42,000 in medical bills on Nick's injured knee. They offered Nick $110,000 to make the case go away.
Nick refused to accept the chump change. He apparently told his buddies that he wanted really big bucks. At that point, one of the (disgusted) friends who witnessed the incident dropped a dime on him. His friends were given immunity from prosecution; while technically co-conspirators, they did not benefit financially from the fraud. Nick was convicted of stealing more than $65,000 and now faces up to four years in prison.
Benefit of the Doubt?
Erik and Nick were both injured on the job, but their injuries were part of a conscious effort to defraud the employer and insurer. Their stories demonstrate how the comp system defaults toward accepting a reported claim: Erik and Nick both were successful in accessing comp benefits for their injuries. The wheels of justice in these cases ground a bit slowly, but they did grind exceedingly fine. The pain of the actual injuries, with the exception of Erik's impaired vision, has already faded. But the pain of lives ruined by impulsive greed will linger for a long, long time.