2003 death of Queens Village woman inspires law against staging auto accidents

By Victoria Merlino

Sixteen years after a Queens Village woman was killed by a man attempting to fake a car crash, staging phony collisions to collect auto insurance payments is now a Class E felony.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill, known as “Alice’s Law” after victim Alice Ross, on Thursday. When a victim is injured during the commission of these types of staged accidents, the felony bumps up to class D, which carries greater penalty.

Ross, was 71 when a 22-year-old man crashed his car into hers, hoping to collect on insurance money for claiming bogus injuries in 2003. He was later convicted of manslaughter in 2006.

Advocates for the law said scammers are enabled by New York’s No-Fault Law, which pushes insurance companies to pay for medical bills and other expenses, regardless of who was at fault in the crash. New York is one of 12 states with a no-fault law.

Queens defense attorney Wyatt Gibbons told the Eagle that fraudsters will get lawyers and doctors in on the scam to facilitate these payouts. The New York Attorney General's Office reports that this type of fraud costs New Yorkers “millions” every year.

Assemblymember David Weprin sponsored the bill and said the law “rightfully honors the memory of Alice Ross,” one of his constituents.

"The signing of this legislation closes loopholes in the insurance law, adds higher penalties for those who stage auto accidents,” Weprin said.

Prior to the law’s signing, there was no specific crime against staging accidents to collect auto insurance money. Weprin has been pushing for a version of this bill since 2011, a spokesperson from his office told the Eagle

A version of the bill passed the State Senate in 2012, but stalled in the Assembly. 

Though this type of auto insurance fraud remains an issue, Gibbons said he has seen this type of fraud decrease from a time when it was “very common” around seven years ago. 

He said that part of the danger of this type of insurance fraud is that, in the process, both perpetrators and victims can be seriously injured because the accidents have to be believable. 

 “That was just a consequence of their nefarious scheme,” Gibbons said of perpetrators. 

Gibbons said that he sees credit card fraud as the most common type of fraud in Queens today.