ATLANTA – Staging a car wreck and then cashing in on the insurance payout would become a serious crime under a measure that narrowly passed the House.
The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Kasey Carpenter, would make it a felony offense to either intentionally cause an automobile collision or attempt to manufacture evidence for a wreck that never happened.
Faking a wreck could land a person in prison for one to five years. But if another person is injured or killed, that could turn into five to 20 years behind bars.
The Dalton Republican said he hopes the measure will deter would-be fraudsters from staging a wreck, saving consumers and businesses money.
“I think this bill will send a message that staging a motor vehicle accident will not be tolerated and, in turn, should reduce car insurance rates for all Georgians,” Carpenter said.
As an example, Carpenter described a scenario where someone might rent a moving truck, buy the insurance offered and then intentionally ram the truck into the back of a friend’s vehicle so the friend can collect the payout.
Carpenter said U-Haul, in particular, had more than 40 fraudulent cases during a two-year period. It’s unclear how widespread the problem is here in Georgia, but Carpenter said truck drivers — or really any motorist — can fall victim to someone abruptly cutting them off in hopes of cashing in.
But several lawmakers balked at the bill, citing concerns about mandatory minimum sentences and the severity of the punishment. The measure passed Thursday with a 93-to-76 vote, with mostly Democrats but also about a dozen Republicans voting against it.
“Criminal justice is about balance,” said Rep. Josh McLaurin, a Democrat from Sandy Springs, who voted against the bill. “If there is a need to create a new crime, which in this case there may be, we’ve always got to be sensitive to the penalties we’re imposing and make sure that they truly do fit the circumstances.”
McLaurin, who is also an attorney, noted that the bill does not specify the kind of injury required for the more serious offense, meaning even a minor injury could trigger a minimum five-year prison sentence. That’s on par, he noted, with a first offense of child molestation.
When asked about those concerns, Carpenter said the stiffer sentence was a request from prosecutors, who pushed to ensure that a defendant who killed someone during such a scheme would not receive a light sentence.
He also noted that the proposed punishment for cases where there are no injuries is lower than other types of insurance fraud, which are punishable from two to 10 years.
Carpenter said the bill evolved from conversations with the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small business interest at the statehouse. The measure now moves to the Senate.
Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.