Tuesday, July 28, 2009

San Bernardino Woman Charged With Insurance Fraud And Perjury Based On Alleged Exaggerated Injuries And False Deposition Testimony In Civil Lawsuit

On July 20, 2009, in San Bernardino County Superior Court, a criminal complaint was filed charging Esther De Leon of Rialto, California with four counts of insurance fraud in violation of Penal Code Sections 550 (A) (1) and 550 (B) (1) PC and two counts of perjury in violation of Penal Code Section 118. Her bail was set at $50,000.

A felony criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant including Ms. De Leon is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

This case is somewhat unusual in that it arose out of an automobile accident that actually occurred and where there was a subsequent civil personal injury lawsuit. The criminal charges arose from the statements that were made under oath by Ms. De Leon in a deposition the civil lawsuit.

The underlying alleged facts are as follows. On November 7, 2007, De Leon was driving a Chevy Avalanche and stopped in heavy traffic in Fontana. Her car was struck in the rear by a San Bernardino County vehicle going a few miles an hour. There was minor damage to the Chevy and at the time of the accident, Ms. De Leon refused any medical attention. Soon after the accident, Ms. De Leon began to see several doctors claiming the traffic accident caused numerous major medical problems. She obtained an attorney and they sued the County of San Bernardino. A doctor hired by the county examined her and could find nothing wrong with her. The county also hired a private investigator who followed her and taped her daily activities.

In the civil lawsuit, she had her deposition taken and testified under oath that she could not go to work, go out of her house, pick up her grandchild, or even comb her hair because one of her medical complaints was, her right arm was numb. The investigators found her working at a dry cleaner's and lifting heavy objects without any noticeable problems.

Attorney Commentary: For years in civil personal injury lawsuits, exaggerated injuries have not been uncommon but are usually not prosecuted. In fact, in some personal injury cases, minor injuries would be overtreated and medical and therapy bills would help build up the value of the cases.

This case illustrates several trends. First, this case probably obtained the attention of law enforcement because the civil defendant was San Bernardino County and not an individual or private company.

Second, insurance companies and government agencies are being aggressive about insurance fraud and the special units in the County District Attorney's Offices are not hesitant about filing these cases.

Third, although we do not know Ms. De Leon or how her testimony arose, it is not uncommon for unsophisticated and uneducated people to assume that if they are not completely disabled or injured that they will not recover any money for their actual injuries. The fact that Ms. De Leon refused medical attention at the accident site is not proof of fraud since soft tissue injuries can take time to develop. But we have seen sophisticated, educated people exaggerate simply because they do not realize that telling the truth in a detailed manner will help their case and that exaggerations will simply weaken their credibility and their case. We have seen much more perjury in civil lawsuits that in criminal cases.

Fourth, this may be an interesting trend for our society as a whole. With the large fraud cases such as the Bernie Madoff case, the real estate mortgage debacle, and a society which seemed to sanction cheating as long as someone made money at it -- the tide has shifted. Defenses such as "everyone else is doing it" are not persuasive and if a person has the bad luck of being the one person prosecuted for what everyone else is doing, that person will be used as an example and will be prosecuted to deter others.

Any questions or comments should be directed to: tgreen@greenassoc.com. Tracy Green is a principal at Green and Associates in Los Angeles, California. They focus their practice on the representation of licensed professionals, individuals and businesses in civil, business, administrative and criminal proceedings. They have a specialty in representing individuals and companies in fraud investigations and federal and state cases. Their website is: http://www.greenassoc.com/


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