Staged Accident Scam: 92 People Facing Charges

The chickens are coming home to roost for those involved in what investigators have named “Operation Sledgehammer” – a six-year scheme by chiropractic clinics in South Florida to defraud healthcare agencies.

The scam began around 2006 when 21 chiropractor clinics allegedly colluded to stage car accidents and submit automobile insurance claims for treatments that were either not needed or never actually performed. The investigation resulted in 92 people being charged – 56 federally and 36 are facing state charges. The name “Operation Sledgehammer” stems from the scammers use of a sledgehammer to damage the vehicle prior to contacting law enforcement.

Besides the staging of accidents, other offenses include unlicensed clinics, mail fraud and money laundering. Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Marcus Christian says “Staged accident fraud has become the largest source of health care fraud in Palm Beach County.” Parkland chiropractor, Lawrence Schechtman was sentenced to prison and ordered to pay $2.4 million in restitution while Palm Springs chiropractic receptionist Sircy Sacerio received a four year prison sentence for her role in the scam and is mandated to pay $1.14 million in restitution.

The attorneys at Steinger, Greene & Feiner find these stories of staged accidents so disheartening. Each day we encounter individuals and their families whose lives have been devastated by their involvement in an auto accident. The idea that people would mimic injuries in the hopes of a ‘pay-day’ is inexcusable and damages the credibility of those who have been party to real accidents and endured true injuries.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) performs numerous annual studies on the effects of accidents on the human body including the types and severity of injuries accident victims can endure. They gather their data using crash test dummies representing various size humans; a ‘male’ dummy who if he could stand would be 6’2” and would weigh approximately 220 pounds, a 107 pound ‘female’ with a height of 5’2”, and various dummies representing small children.

These sophisticated mannequins are wired with feedback and recording devices and gather data specific to acceleration, force, and how much stress a body part can take before it is injured. It is important to remember why acceleration is so important; the body is travelling at the same speed as the vehicle prior to impact. Any impact or sudden stops experienced by the vehicle is also experienced by the driver’s body. The IIHS surmises that each individual accident is comprised of three separate collisions:

  • 1st Collision – Between the car and the wall (during testing) or whatever the vehicle strikes when there is an actual accident.
  • 2nd Collision – Between the driver and the car’s interior; think in terms of the drivers head hitting the steering wheel.
  • 3rd Collision – Between the driver’s internal organs and the inside walls of the driver’s body cavities; think in terms of the lungs hitting the rib cage or the heart colliding with the breast bone.

Effects of a Collision on the Body

  • Brain – upon impact the brain will move around in the skull, coming into contact with the walls of the skull
  • Heart – the ascending portion of the heart’s largest blood vessel (the aorta) is mobile or unattached while the descending portion is fixed – connected to internal heart wall. Upon impact, the mobile part of the aorta continues to move and can collide with the breast bone or ribs as there is nothing holding it in place. This can cause a tear in the aorta.
  • Tissues – the strain of the impact can cause tissues to extend beyond their maximum stress level. This can result in tears, contusions, and other injuries.
  • Bones – bones also have a maximum stress level and when they come into contact with the interior of the vehicle or items in the vehicle breaks can occur.

The bottom line is that car accident victims can experience serious injuries for which immediate, and sometimes ongoing medical care is required. In addition to possible life-threatening injuries, they may face loss of income, and in extreme cases they may lose a loved one. Steinger, Greene & Feiner is here to help in those situations where victims are overwhelmed with the physical, financial, and emotional aspects of the accident.

Accidents are serious. Dealing with life-altering results is serious. Facing a mountain of medical bills is serious. Our firm is here to help real people with the real problems stemming from real accidents. We take our defense of your case very seriously and our intention is always to work tirelessly on your behalf to get you the compensation you deserve. This frees you to concentrate on what is most important; your health. Discussing your options with a caring professional just takes one call.

About The Author

Michael Steinger

Michael Steinger

The Florida BarFlorida Bar Young Lawyers DivisionMillion Dollar Advocates ForumMillion Dollar Advocates ForumBest Workers Compensation Attorneys in MiamiBest Car Accident Lawyers in MiamiLawyers of distinction

MICHAEL S. STEINGER, founding partner of Steinger, Greene & Feiner, believes in representing real people, not big businesses. Since the firm’s creation in 1997, Steinger, Greene & Feiner has never represented an insurance company or large corporation, and he vows to keep this promise. Over the course of his career, Michael has handled thousands of Florida accident cases, recovering millions of dollars for his clients and earning him membership into the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Staying up-to-date on the ever-evolving laws protecting injury victims and their families, Michael is an active member of the American Bar Association, the Palm Beach, and St. Lucie Bar Associations, and sits on the Auto Insurance Committee of the Florida Justice Association.