Auto insurance fraud in California can be committed in a variety of ways and every form is described under different statutes.
Under California Penal Code Section 548, it's a crime to purposefully damage, abandon or dispose of a vehicle in order to submit a claim with an auto insurance company.
This type of fraud is commonly referred to a “staging an accident,” but it's important to note it's just one statue listed in California's auto insurance fraud laws.
A common example includes a situation where somebody damages their own vehicle in order to collect money from their insurance company. Another example is a situation where somebody abandons their vehicle in a secluded location and makes a report to their insurance company that the car was stolen.
The white collar crime of auto insurance fraud in California is often a difficult criminal charge for prosecutors because of the complexity of the evidence needed obtain a conviction. The penalties for a Penal Code 548 conviction could carry a significant sentence and fines.
Due to the harsh consequences, you need to consult with a skilled criminal defense lawyer who is familiar with the local courts, prosecutors, and judges. At Eisner Gorin LLP, we have decades of experience and a track record of success in handing all types of auto insurance fraud cases.
To give our readers useful information about the crime of penal Code 548 damaging or abandoning a vehicle, our California criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.
Definition of California Penal Code 548
California Penal Code Section 548 defines the criminal offense of damaging or abandoning a vehicle as follows:
Anyone who willfully injures, destroys, secretes, abandons, or disposes of property which is insured against loss or damage by theft, or embezzlement, or any casualty with intent to defraud or prejudice the insurer.
This statute that defines fraud against an insurer describes defrauding or prejudicing an insurer as an act that must have specific elements of the crime under CALCRIM 2004 Jury Instructions:
- You acted willfully - meaning it was on purpose;
- You abandoned, injured, hid, or disposed of;
- Property insured against theft, loss, embezzlement, or casualty;
- With an intent to harm the insurer
“Intent to defraud” in context of PC 548 simply means you had an intent to deceive the insurance company to cause them loss of money - or cause damage to their financial or property rights.
It should be noted you can still be found guilty of Penal Code 548, damaging or abandoning a vehicle, even in a situation where the insurance company doesn't lose any money, or if the vehicle was not owned by the defendant.
It should also be noted you can still be found guilty if the insurance policy was invalid, as long as you believed it was valid – and you committed the crime with intent to collect money from the policy.
Description of California Auto Insurance Fraud
There are a variety of ways for someone to be found guilty of auto insurance fraud in California, including, if you committed any of the following:
- Abandon, injured, hide, insured property with intent to defraud the insurer
- Knowingly present a false or fraudulent claim for payment from an insurer
- Knowingly submit multiple insurance claims for the same loss
- Knowingly cause an accident to obtain money from the insurer
- Knowing submit a false claim for loss of contents in a vehicle
- Preparing a written statement for an insurance claim, knowing it's false
It should be noted that California Penal Code 550 applies to both the person who committed the actual crime, and to anyone who aids, abets, conspires with, or solicits the person who committed the acts.
Penalties for Damaging or Abandoning a Vehicle
If you are convicted of California Penal Code 548, damaging or abandoning a vehicle for auto insurance fraud, it's a felony crime and you will be facing:
- Up to five years in a county jail
- a fine up to $50,000
It should be noted that the judge has the discretion to place you on formal felony probation, rather than spending time jail.
If you have a prior felony conviction for auto insurance fraud under California Penal Code 548 or 550.7, there is a two-year sentence enhancement. The closely related California offenses for Penal Code 548, include the following:
Penal Code 549 - Soliciting or Accepting Auto Insurance Fraud Business Penal Code 550 – Fraudulent Auto Insurance Claims Penal Code 551 – Kickbacks from an Auto Repair Shop Vehicle Code 10501 – False Report of Vehicle Theft
Fighting Penal Code 548 Charges in Los Angeles
If you have been accused of damaging or abandoning a vehicle for auto insurance fraud in violation of California Penal Code 548, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can use a variety of defense strategies on your behalf. It might be possible to get your charges reduced or dismissed.
Every case is unique and will first require a close examination of the facts and circumstances of your case. The most common defenses to against PC 548 charges include the following.
Lack of Intent
The legal definition above, it states that you must have had an intent to defraud the insurer in order to be convicted of Penal Code 548. We might be able to make a reasonable argument that you did not act with this critical element of the crime. If the prosecutor can't prove intent, you have a good chance at avoiding a conviction.
Lack of Probable Cause
Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, law enforcement authorities must a probable cause before they can detain or arrest you for a crime. Perhaps we can make an argument probable cause didn't exist – meaning evidence obtained after the unlawful arrest has to be excluded. In most case, exclusion of critical evidence will force the prosecutor to reduce the charges of dismiss the case.
In certain cases, our criminal lawyers might be able to argue you were falsely accused. Perhaps you are the victim of someone making false accusations against you out of anger, jealously, or revenge.
If you have been accused of damaging or abandoning a vehicle under California Penal Code 548, or any other type of auto insurance fraud, you could be facing harsh consequences.
At Eisner Gorin LLP, our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm has decades of success defending clients against all forms of fraud-related cases. Contact our law firm to review the details of your case and legal option.