Review of Insurance Fraud by Damaging or Abandoning a Vehicle
California Penal Code 548 PC is the statute used by prosecutors to charge someone for purposefully damaging or abandoning a vehicle in order to fraudulently submit a claim with an auto insurance company.
This type of auto insurance fraud is frequently called “staging an accident,” but is only one statute of several that fall under the umbrella of car insurance fraud laws in California.
The most common example of a PC 548 crime is when somebody intentionally damages their own vehicle so they can collect compensation from their insurance carrier.
This statute can also be charged in a situation where someone simply abandons their vehicle somewhere and then files a report with their insurance company that their vehicle has been stolen.
This white collar crime of auto insurance fraud is a felony that is punishable by up to five years in jail and large fines, but it might be possible for the judge to grant probation rather than time in jail
For more detailed information, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview of the law below.
What is the Definition of Penal Code 548?
California Penal Code 548 PC is the statute that defines damaging or abandoning a vehicle for the purpose of auto insurance fraud:
- “Anybody who willfully injures, destroys, abandons, or disposes of property which is insured against loss or damage by theft, or embezzlement, or any casualty with intent to defraud or prejudice the insurer.”
In order for a prosecutor to convict a defendant of violating PC 548, they will have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, different factors.
These are frequently called the “elements of the crime” and include the following:
- defendant abandoned, destroyed, concealed, or disposed of a motor vehicle which was currently insured against damage or loss;
- when defendant acted, they had a specific intent to defraud or prejudice the insurance company.
A defendant could still be found guilty of damaging or abandoning a vehicle if the insurance policy had expired or was invalid as long as they believed it was valid and their intent was to collect money from the policy.
Further, it's not required that the insurance company actually suffers a loss. Put simply, just the attempt to fraudulently collect on an insurance policy is sufficient.
Additionally, it's also not required that the defendant owned the car.
The phrase “intent to defraud” simply means there was an intent to deceive the insurance company in order to cause them loss of money. As with all forms of California fraud crimes, the key factor is “intent.”
Types of Auto Insurance Fraud in California
There are many different ways somebody could be convicted for violating California car insurance laws, including when they knowingly do any of the following acts:
- abandoned, concealed, or damaged a vehicle to defraud the insurer;
- intentionally cause a car accident to collect insurance money;
- present a false claim to insurance company for payment;
- present a false insurance claim for losing items in a vehicle;
- submit several insurance claims for the same exact loss;
- prepare a false written statement to collect on an insurance claim.
The related crime of Penal Code 550 PC fraudulent insurance claims can be charged against a defendant who actually committed the crime as well as any other person who aided, abetted, conspired, or solicited the defendant.
What are the Punishments?
As noted, a conviction for damaging or abandoning a vehicle for auto insurance fraud as defined under California PC 548 is a felony offense that carries the following penalties:
- a county jail term of up to five years,
- a maximum fine of $50,000.
The judge has the discretion to place a defendant on formal felony probation, rather than sending them to jail.
A two-year sentencing enhancement could be applied if the defendant has previous auto insurance fraud convictions.
What are the Related Crimes?
Penal Code 487 PC – grand theft,
Penal Code 549 PC – solicit or accept car insurance fraud business,
Penal Code 550 PC – fraudulent auto insurance claims,
Penal Code 551 PC – kickbacks from a car repair shop
Vehicle Code 10501 VC – false report of theft of vehicle.
How Can I Fight the PC 548 Charges?
Auto insurance fraud in California is normally committed in a many different ways and charged under a variety of criminal statutes.
If you are under investigation, or already arrested and charged with damaging or abandoning a vehicle for auto insurance fraud described under California Penal Code 548, we may be able to develop a strategy to get the case reduced or dismissed.
The most common legal defenses for PC 548 charges include the following.
Lack of Intent to Defraud
Recall from the definition and elements of the crime above that the prosecutor must be able to prove a defendant had a specific intent to defraud the insurer in order to obtain a conviction.
Our lawyers might be able to show the defendant didn't act with this crucial factor. If we can create reasonable doubt, the there is a chance of avoiding a conviction.
In some cases, we might be able to challenge the charges by showing you have been falsely accused.
Perhaps the person making the allegations is motivated by other factors, such as jealously and anger.
Any felony conviction will result is severe penalties and unforeseen collateral consequences on your life. We need to first review the details and evidence in the case to determine an appropriate defense strategy.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm that has two office locations in Los Angeles County, including Century City and Van Nuys, right next to the courthouse.
Contact us for an initial consultation and to review potential legal options at (877) 781-1570.