You’ve seen stories like this in the news before: a person lying on the floor of a business crying out in pain. Paramedics taking the person away on a stretcher. And the business getting sued as the result of someone slipping and falling.
Except that things aren’t always what they seem.
Did he fall? Or is he faking it?
Sadly, some of these slip-and-fall accidents are not accidents at all – but are instead carefully staged to look like a random incident. The goal is for these “victims” to get money from the business’s insurance company as part of a legal settlement to cover their so-called “injuries.”
Actual Fraudulent Slip-And-Fall Incidents
How often does this happen? Consider these five cases:
- In South Carolina, Michael Rhinehart is in a grocery store when he sees a “Wet Floor” sign. He moves the sign slightly, takes some juice from his shopping cart, and pours some on the floor. Rhinehart then goes to a different aisle to hide the juice bottle on a shelf before walking back to the site of the spill and “slipping.” The man tried to get $8,000 for his efforts.
- In Florida, two women attempted to stage a fall scene. Johnella Howard takes her foot and smears water around in a grocery aisle. Howard’s caretaker, Susan Snow, watches as Howard sits down near the spot, adjusts her hair, and lies down on the floor. The women attempted to snag $300,000 from the store, but were jailed instead.
It looks real enough – which is what fraudsters try to make you think.
- Elsewhere in Florida, Anna Nikolyszyn takes a container of apple cider and drizzles some of it on the floor in a grocery store. Perhaps to strengthen her future case, she even tosses a plantain onto the floor. Nikolyszyn then pushes her cart through the debris and fakes a fall. She was later convicted of fraud after seeking $150,000 from the store.
- Again in the Sunshine State, an unidentified woman snatches a bottle of olive oil from the condiment aisle and pours the liquid onto the floor. She has the decency to replace the olive oil on a shelf before getting down on her hands and knees and rolling onto her back. Paramedics have to waste their time transporting the “victim” to a medical facility.
- And in Arizona, Tommy Masterson buys a hot dog at a major retail store (with his child next to him). He moves to a spot near the cash registers where he surreptitiously places the hot dog on the floor. Just seconds later, Lesa Bonilla (his partner in crime) walks by and just happens to catch it under her foot and fall. Both people were found guilty of fraud – and it wasn’t the first time they had tried such a stunt.
All of these crimes were caught on in-store surveillance video; otherwise, it might have been hard to prove that the perpetrators were faking their injuries. And it happens more often than you might think. The National Floor Safety Institute estimates that three percent of all slip-and-fall incidents are fraudulent; and that these injury claims and their related litigation expenses total some $2 billion annually.
How To Prevent Fake Falls
Obviously, video surveillance is an effective tool against this type of fraud. But if your establishment doesn’t have cameras, you can still take measures to reduce the chances of being victimized by fake slips and falls. First, train your employees to identify and report suspicious behavior. Put down floor mats in entry ways and other places where moisture is likely to be. Have a set of policies and procedures in place for cleaning your floors. And of course, immediately clean up any spills that do occur.
It’s all too common – and it can cost you a lot of money.
If you are suspicious about a slip-and-fall incident that allegedly happened in your place of business, be sure to express these concerns to your insurer. These companies have the resources and personnel to investigate slip-and-fall claims and are more likely to be successful in spotting fraud than you are.
It’s always smart to assume that any slip-and-fall accident is legitimate at the time the victim is incapacitated. But afterward, don’t hesitate to follow up on any misgivings you may have about the veracity of the victim’s claims.
Written by Chris Martin