Massachusetts Appeals Court Affirms Insurance Fraud Conviction for Defendant Who Lied About Hitting Animal With His Car

The Massachusetts Appeals Court yesterday upheld a defendant’s conviction for defrauding an insurance company after the defendant lied about hitting an animal with his car.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Driscoll

In 2012, the defendant obtained an auto insurance policy for his 2001 Ford Explorer.  The policy provided comprehensive coverage, as opposed to collision coverage, for his vehicle.  A few months after purchasing the policy, the defendant was involved in a single car accident in Jamaica Plain.  The accident occurred on a winding, country road near a farm.  The defendant’s car crashed into a stone wall and was totaled.  The defendant filed an accident report and claimed he struck a bison or a moose, which caused him to swerve into the stone wall.  According to the defendant, the animal ran away after being hit by his car.  When the police arrived, an animal was not present at the accident scene and there was no blood or animal hair discovered on the defendant’s vehicle.  While the nearby farm housed large animals, no animal was missing on the date of the accident and there were no reports of any injured animals.  An accident reconstruction expert who examined the defendant’s vehicle determined there was no evidence it had struck an animal.  Whether the defendant hit an animal before hitting the stone wall is important, because his comprehensive insurance policy would cover the damage to his vehicle if an animal caused the accident, but his policy would not cover the damage if he crashed into the stone wall on his own.  After determining the defendant had lied about hitting an animal before hitting the stone wall, the police charged the defendant with insurance fraud and attempted larceny.  A West Roxbury District Court jury convicted the defendant of both charges. The Appeals Court affirmed the insurance fraud conviction but reversed the attempted larceny conviction.

The defendant argued the evidence was insufficient to support either conviction.  In order to convict a defendant of insurance fraud, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally made a claim of a proof of loss related to an insurance policy, knowing that the claim contained a materially false statement, with the intent to defraud the insurance company.  The Appeals Court ruled the trial evidence established the defendant’s guilt.  There is no question the defendant made a claim to his insurance company related to his car accident.  His statement that he had struck an animal was refuted by the testimony of the accident reconstruction expert.  And it was reasonable for the jury to conclude the defendant knew the damage would be covered if he hit an animal, but not if he hit the stone wall with no animal interaction.  On this evidence, it was reasonable for the jury to find the Commonwealth had proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Appeals Court reversed the attempted larceny conviction.  The trial judge instructed the jurors they must find the defendant carried away another’s property to be convicted of larceny.  Because there was no evidence the defendant carried away another’s property (or attempted to do so), the evidence was insufficient to support the attempted larceny conviction.