TAMPA (FOX 13) - People faking an injury to get a big payout from workers’ compensation: It’s a problem you could be paying for.
Several bills addressing changes to Florida's workers' compensation system were filed this legislative session as businesses here face a nearly 15-percent rate increase, and fraud could play a role in rates rising over time.
In one example of workers’ comp fraud out of Fort Lauderdale, a woman picked up a sprinkler head after it had fallen on her desk, then hit herself in the head with it to stage an on-the-job injury.
Her employer's insurance company got suspicious and referred the incident to Florida's Division of Investigative and Forensic Services. Detectives requested security cam footage and were able to prove she staged the whole thing.
VIDEO: Watch the raw footage
The employee, Sheyla Veronica White, was convicted for workers' compensation insurance fraud -- a third-degree felony -- and sentenced to 18 months of probation.
She didn't have to pay any restitution because they caught the claim before any benefits went out to her.
We watched the video with Lt. Doreen Rivera, in the Florida Dept. of Financial Services' Fraud Division. She says faking injuries is common way of trying to cheat the system. But "claim fraud" is only the tip of the iceberg.
When it comes to abusing workers’ comp, many times it’s not the employees but the businesses bilking the system by lying about how many people they employ, and how risky the work is, to avoid buying the proper level of insurance.
“Not having it is a felony and not having it is serious. And why is it serious? Because if a worker gets injured on the job and there's no coverage, they're going to have to cover their own medical costs and those medical bills can, you know, be staggering,” Lt. Rivera explained, adding her department has found the major abusers to be in the construction industry.
She says she's seeing a new scheme trending.
“It’s well identified down south and now it's emerging here. And that is basically when a business is created for the purposes for taking out a minimal workers’ comp policy.”
According to Lt. Rivera, contractors are paying pay a fee to these so-called shell companies to use their workers comp and not purchase their own, meaning a lot of people could be hidden under a policy designed for a few -- defrauding the insurance company.
“When they're defrauded, eventually that cost is going to trickle to higher premiums to businesses and trickle down to consumers as well.”
Whether it’s the employee or the business committing workers’ comp fraud, authorities warn that the person getting hit with higher costs is you.