Four Progressive Corp. subsidiaries have filed a civil suit against First Chiropractic Clinic of Orlando, First Chiropractic Clinic of Pine Hills and its principal, Mirlourdes Beliard-Hopkins, and chiropractors Jodie Ellis and Vincent Rahal.
The companies are seeking monetary damages in excess of one million dollars, a figure the complaint alleges represents the amount the companies paid in fraudulent auto insurance injury claims to the clinics between 1999 and 2002 when Beliard-Hopkins was arrested and charged with organized fraud and grand theft and the clinics were shut down. The suit includes counts for fraud, civil theft, unjust enrichment and deceptive, unfair trade practices.
In September 2002, Edgewood police arrested Beliard-Hopkins on allegations that she recruited people to stage car accidents for money. The police alleged that those involved would then claim they were injured in the accident and then go to the First Chiropractic Clinic for treatment. According to police, the clinic would pay them for their help and file claims with the insurance company.
Under Florida’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) laws, injured parties with coverage may have their medical bills paid up to a coverage limit of $10,000. It’s estimated that up to 37 insurance companies were billed in what was described as one of the largest fraud operations in the state.
“As appalling as it sounds, it happens every day in the state,” said Juan Andrade, claims general manager, Progressive. “And Florida drivers pay the price. Auto insurance rates are based on each company’s cost of doing business, including what it pays in claims. If the company is presented with fraudulent claims, all drivers in the state are paying that price.”
The Florida Division of Insurance Fraud estimates that fraudulent insurance claims cost each family in the state an additional $240 a year.
Andrade said: “Every Florida driver should be paying close attention to what’s going on in Tallahassee right now. The Legislature has before it a PIP reform package that could go a long way toward reducing the amount of auto insurance fraud. This could ultimately help to keep the cost of auto insurance down for all Florida drivers.”
The reform package before the current Legislative session includes toughening penalties for ambulance chasing and seeks broader regulation of medical fees, caps on attorney’s fees and additional time for insurers to investigate suspicious claims.