The Aftermath of the Coronavirus Pandemic: Arson and Insurance Fraud
You’ve been arrested for arson or accused of insurance fraud. Your business has been destroyed, and now the government and the insurance company want to hold you responsible for a crime. These allegations can carry some serious consequences, and your freedom, your reputation, and livelihood are on the line.
How Are Businesses Responding to the COVID-19 Lockdowns?
Three in four small-business owners are very concerned about the economic impact of COVID-19. Almost half have already seen reduced customer demand. And 38% aren’t confident in the financial future of their business, up markedly from 15% in January. More than half of U.S. states have imposed lockdown measures restricting gathering and social contact, disrupting the lives of more than 100 million people and suspending the operations of thousands of businesses. Federal officials warn of a 30% unemployment rate, which would be far worse than what the country weathered during the Great Recession. The current economic situation is unprecedented in the history of a market economy like the United States.
When businesses start failing, there are some that see arson and insurance fraud as the only way to recover some of the money and sacrifice poured over the years instead of losing everything on bankruptcy. Some think that people in this situation seek the easy path back to solvency by incinerating their businesses for insurance payouts. And the reality is that arson overall remains one of the hardest major crimes to solve despite advances in arson science. This crime has a “clearance” rate of only about 20%, according to the FBI.
How Does The Law Define Arson?
The crime of arson, under Florida Statute 806.01, is committed when a person willfully and unlawfully damages a dwelling or structure by fire or explosion. Florida Statutes, Section 806.01(3) defines the term “structure” as a vehicle, a portable building, a tent, any type of real property, an enclosed area with a roof, a building of any type, any boat, vessel, watercraft, or aircraft. If the structure is a department building, a school, a church, an office building, a healthcare facility, a jail, a detention center, a prison or a hospital, enhanced penalties will apply. Aggravating circumstances can enhance the charges and potential penalties when the arson (First Degree – up to 30 years) is committed against a dwelling, occupied structure, or a structure where people are normally present, such as a store, mall, or church.
What is The Connection to Insurance Fraud?
Arson usually involves at least one other crime when it’s committed, such as insurance fraud, under Florida Statute 817.234. This happens when the person that sets the fire also has an insurance policy on the building and causes the damages or destruction for the settlement the carrier would provide. This means that these two crimes can be prosecuted in conjunction against the person accused of committing the arson. Burning down the property and then waiting for the monetary payment from the insurance policies is often the connection between insurance and arson.
Investigations: Law Enforcement and Insurance Investigators
Investigations into arson can include the local fire department, an arson investigator, the insurance company involved, and the person under suspicion. Fraud investigations may also be initiated simultaneously while the arson claim has commenced. As part of an ongoing investigation for arson by law enforcement, the insurance carrier generally has an adjuster or another investigator trying everything they can to find the connection between the arson and the property’s policy to deny payment. The insurance company has a lot of money, and they will try everything in their arsenal to deny payment and to help the authorities connect the arson to the owner of the insured property.
The profit motive of payment of insurance policy is applied to the person that owns the insured property destroyed by fire, and due to this relation of benefits, it’s easier to associate the crime with the owner of the policy. An experienced criminal defense lawyer versed in arson and insurance fraud cases should be hired immediately to refute claims and allegations, and build a defensive strategy.
What Are Potential Defenses to Arson and Insurance Fraud?
The most important claim or accusation to defend against is arson, because without arson, generally, the insurance fraud is mute (not an issue). An experienced criminal defense attorney can conduct the necessary investigation and hire the skilled expert witnesses to refute the government’s theory of the case.
Among the most typical defenses to the crime of arson are:
1) Actual innocence: another person committed the crime, or the evidence does not support the conclusion that you’re responsible for the arson (maybe framed by another person).
2) You lacked the required intent: for example, First Degree Arson requires actual knowledge or belief that the structure was occupied by a human being.
3) It was an accident: although you caused the fire, it was an accident, not a deliberate act. (It’s important that the insurance claim was reported as an accident to avoid an insurance fraud prosecution).
The most common defenses to insurance fraud are:
1) Lack of intent to deceive or defraud: a person may use incorrect or false information, but if he or she believes that the details are true, there is no intent to commit fraud or to deceive others into acquiring something of value through fraudulent behavior.
2) The claim or information is not fraudulent: the information provided in the claim is, upon a reasonable investigation, true to the best knowledge of the claimant.
3) A mistake of fact: i.e., the defendant truly thought the fire that destroyed his house was an accident, and it later comes to light that someone purposely set the fire without the defendant’s knowledge.
Experienced Orlando Arson and Insurance Fraud Lawyers
Arson and insurance fraud are very serious crimes, and if you’re convicted of such a crime, you can face over a decade in prison and several thousands of dollars in fines. The fines do not include the amount of illegally obtained money you would have to pay back to the insurer. If you’ve been charged with arson and insurance fraud in Central Florida, you have a challenging road ahead of you in proving that you did not intentionally commit the crime.
The experienced criminal defense and board-certified lawyers at The Umansky Law Firm are adept at fighting for your rights, your case, and your future, no matter how bleak of an outlook the circumstances are painting. Do not hesitate to contact our legal defense team to schedule a free consultation. Call our office to get started on protecting your future today.