Driver Who Claimed He Hit Bison, Guilty of Insurance Fraud

By Elizabeth Blosfield | May 17, 2017

The Massachusetts Appeals Court has affirmed a lower court’s decision to charge the defendant in a case involving a Boston car accident with motor vehicle insurance fraud. However, the Appeals Court reversed the lower court’s decision to also charge the defendant with attempted larceny of property with a value greater than $250.

The ruling in the case, Commonwealth vs. Bryan Driscoll, comes after the defendant obtained compulsory and comprehensive insurance coverage from Commerce Insurance Company for his vehicle in August 2012. In November of that year, a Boston police officer responded to a report of an accident on a country road near Allandale Farm in which the defendant’s car had been abandoned on the sidewalk after appearing to have crashed into a stone wall.

The defendant filed a single-vehicle accident report with Commerce. Joshua Tucker, a claims adjuster with Commerce, explained that a single-vehicle accident means that a vehicle is damaged and no other vehicles are involved, according to the Appeals Court document.

If that is the case, an insured with collision coverage would be compensated by Commerce for the loss, but a person with only comprehensive coverage, like the defendant, would not be entitled to recover for the loss. However, if the driver strikes an animal and comes to a stop or swerves and goes off the road, the loss would be covered under comprehensive coverage because it involved an animal strike, the Appeals Court document said.

That said, the defendant claimed in his motor vehicle accident report that he hit a bison or moose, which caused him to swerve into a stone wall, and the animal then ran away. No animal was found at the scene, and no hair, fur or blood was found during the inspection of the defendant’s vehicle, the Appeals Court document stated.

At the time of the accident, Allandale Farm did not have any bison, moose or buffalo, the court document added. The farm had two large Scottish Highland steers, but they did not go missing on the day of the collision. The animals were also examined by a veterinarian who found no evidence that they had been injured. An accident reconstruction expert examined the defendant’s vehicle and concluded there was no evidence of an animal strike, and the event had not occurred in the way described by the defendant. An appraiser deemed the vehicle a total loss with a value of $5,700.

The Appeals Court determined the lower court jury were warranted in finding the defendant was aware he had comprehensive insurance coverage and not collision coverage on his vehicle, and that he was aware of the differences between these coverages. The Appeals Court ruled it was also reasonable for the jury to infer that prior to the event, the defendant understood if he lost control of his vehicle and struck a wall, his insurance would not cover the loss unless an animal strike was involved.

The defendant was charged by the lower court with one count of motor vehicle insurance fraud and one count of attempted larceny over $250, and the jury found the defendant guilty on both counts. The defendant then appealed.

In order to find a defendant guilty of motor vehicle insurance fraud in Massachusetts, the Commonwealth is required to present evidence “proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, in connection with a claim under a motor vehicle insurance policy issued by an insurer, with the intent to injure, defraud, or deceive such insurer, did knowingly present to it, or aid or abet in or procure the presentation to it, a notice, statement, or proof of loss, knowing that such notice, statement, or proof of loss contained a false or fraudulent statement or representation, of any fact or thing material to such claim,” according to Massachusetts law.

The Appeals Court ruled there was sufficient evidence for the jury to prove all of those elements. However, the Commonwealth conceded that the lower court judge’s instruction on the issue of attempted larceny was insufficient, the Appeals Court document stated. This is because the complaint did not specify the type of attempted larceny charged, and the Commonwealth presented no evidence the defendant took and carried away property.

With that in mind, the Appeals Court affirmed the conviction of insurance fraud but reversed the attempted larceny conviction in the case.

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