BATON ROUGE – The Federal Bureau of Investigations and the U.S. Attorney’s office are investigating several cases of insurance fraud against trucking companies in Louisiana.
Mike Perlstein, investigative reporter for WWL-TV Eyewitness News, reported last month that there is an ongoing criminal investigation into trucking accident lawsuits.
D. Chance McNeely, executive director of the Louisiana Motor Transport Association, says tractor-trailer drivers have been aware of fake accidents and have been concerned about fraud for years.
“More and more trucking companies and their attorneys are coming forward," McNeely said. "We have become very confident that this is widespread."
Truckers make good targets because they are required to carry large amounts of insurance, he said.
In October, WWL-TV reported on the indictment of New Orleans resident Damian Lebeaud, who is charged with intentionally driving a vehicle into a tractor-trailer. According to the indictment, Lebeaud allegedly worked with an attorney to stage the accident. Lebeaud allegedly hit the truck with a vehicle belonging to a female associate and then reportedly moved the woman into the driver’s seat so that she could pretend to be the driver and make the insurance claim. The woman also allegedly had surgery in an effort to beef up the claim.
WWL-TV also reported that Lebeaud has a pattern of filing accident lawsuits and that Lebeaud had collected payments in five other similar lawsuits. WWL-TV found that relatives and associates of Lebeaud had collected payments from insurance lawsuits.
McNeely says that trucking companies are often tempted to make quick payouts even when they suspect fraud.
“The best thing that we can do as an industry is not just quickly settle,” McNeely said. “Even if it seems cheaper to settle, that just perpetuates the problem."
Lana Sonnier Venable, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW), says too many unnecessary lawsuits are driving up Louisiana insurance costs.
“Louisiana drivers pay the second-highest auto insurance rates in the U.S., largely due to the state’s culture of lawsuit abuse,” Venable said. “Louisianans don’t have more accidents or file more property damage claims, but motorists do file nearly double the amount of bodily injury claims compared to the national average."
McNeely says Louisiana is rampant with ads from attorneys that encourage people to sue when they get in accidents.
“The culture that we have here in Louisiana is very litigious,” McNeely said. “And the Bar Association is not doing anything about it.”
The Louisiana Record contacted the Louisiana Bar Association for comment but did not get a response.
To fight back against fraud, McNeely says his organization is encouraging truckers to install camera systems. However, fitting a big rig with a decent camera system is expensive. Truckers can expect to pay $1,000 to $5,000 for a good system, he said.