A good bit of creativity has gone into the faking of accidents and injuries, from NYC injury king Morris Eisen’s special ruler for photographing the size of potholes (calibrated fictitiously so as to exaggerate their size) to the Philadelphia auto guys who “went as far as to have employees gather and store deer blood, hair and carcasses in the shop’s garage to be used as props in photos that were later submitted with insurance claims.” And some are more audacious than creative, as when a California woman got in trouble after allegedly sending “faked treatment documents and burn photos from a hospital website” to bolster a hot coffee spill claim against McDonald’s.
An entertaining and informative treatment of this subject is Ken Dornstein’s 1996 Accidentally on Purpose: The Making of a Personal Injury Underworld in America, about which I wrote this review at the time. Excerpt from my review:
In Illinois, runners took over the Community Hospital of Evanston, dispensing with doctors’ supervision and discouraging “real” nurses from applying. (“You’re going to be so bored here. There is nothing to do.”) The driver of the courtesy van whisking clients from law offices told why he liked the job: “No one is really hurt” so “no one gets sick on me”.
True-crime books usually aim to show how the dirty deed is done, and this one does not disappoint:
How do I get started? For a “paper” accident, try inflicting “controlled damage” on a couple of cars with a sledgehammer in a dark parking lot. Insert passengers. Summon a witness. Gather broken glass in bags for re-use.
That was easy, what next? “Staged” accidents: Buy rustbuckets, insure one and run it into another one full of recruited claimants-to-be (“cows”). If you’re nice, give them pillows.
I need symptoms! “OK, you can take tingles, and you can take hips or your shoulder,” said one coach to his aspiring victims. “But don’t go saying the exact same things.” And be glad you aren’t being sent to one of the House of Pain operations that massage would-be claimants with sandpaper and jagged can lids or flog them with apple-filled sacks. Let alone “Nub City”, the Florida town that, in the 1970s, could boast that something like 10% of its population had practiced self-amputation for insurance, typically popping a left hand with a hunting rifle.
Vernon, Florida, subject of a famous documentary by Errol Morris, is the subject of coverage here (“By the end of the ’50s, the Florida Panhandle was responsible for two-thirds of all loss-of-limb accident claims in the United States.”) and here.