Alice’s Law — the bill named after a 71-year-old Queens grandmother killed in a staged car accident — is an example of the common-sense, no-fault reform required in New York. It stipulates that a person who stages an accident with the intent to commit insurance fraud is guilty of a class D felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.
But while this necessary legislation remains pending in the state Legislature, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association is supporting counterproductive measures — like the so-called SUM bill — that will put money in its members’ pockets.
New York citizens do not need the additional insurance coverage, known as SUM, for supplementary uninsured/underinsured motorist. They need legislation that will put an end to the accident-staging enterprises which endanger the public’s well-being and lead to increasing insurance costs.
Gov. Cuomo is currently deliberating on the SUM auto insurance requirements, which passed by a slim margin at the end of New York’s legislative session. The real benefactors are hiding behind the veil of public concern. Instead of protecting New Yorkers, this misguided legislation would merely add to the outrageous insurance fees. This is not about protection; rather, this is about one group profiting from New York’s already overburdened drivers.
The NYSTLA, as a primary supporter of the SUM bill, claims this is one type of insurance the public should not be without — that SUM coverage should be automatically included in everyone’s insurance plan.
In 2011, the Insurance Research Council ranked New York as one of five states with the lowest percentage of uninsured drivers: only 5 percent. Should all auto insurance owners be forced into purchasing coverage just in case they happen to collide with the underinsured or that statistically insignificant 5 percent?
This bill is basically formatted around one big “What if?” scenario from a protection standpoint. So what is this really about?
The net results would be two-fold. More people would purchase the SUM coverage out of fear of falling victim to an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, while insurers will be exposed to additional liabilities under the new law, forcing them to raise consumer rates. And make no mistake — the New York trial lawyers will certainly be waiting to benefit from any litigation that emerges from liability claims.
If the goal is to protect New York drivers, something must be done to stop the no-fault fraud crisis. Just this year, an auto-fraud ring worth over $250 million was discovered in the city, the largest of its kind yet found in the Empire State.
A current annual report from the state Department of Financial Services explains that “Reports of no-fault fraud totaled 85 percent of health insurance fraud reports and more than half of reports of fraud of all types. In sum, it is the biggest single fraud issue faced by the department.”
New York’s no-fault system is actively abused by the fraudulent enterprises that participate in no-fault fraud and the trial lawyers who benefit from the resulting litigation.
It’s time for real reform and real accountability.
David Schwartz is an attorney and the spokesman for New Yorkers Stand Against Insurance Fraud, as well as a founding partner at Gotham Government Relations & Communications and Gerstman Schwartz & Wink in Roslyn, LI.