A Word About Fraud…

Every once in awhile a case comes along that has a little bit more intrigue than the run-of-the mill investigation. A few years ago, we were asked to look into why a man was injured while working on a scissor lift that had apparently gotten away from him. In order to understand what happened, it is important that one realizes that a scissor lift can be raised and lowered while in place or moved forward and backward. The controls for this particular lift were located on the side of the platform railing and were raised and lowered as the platform was raised and lowered. This particular lift had been rented from an equipment rental company by a construction company and as stated earlier, was in use at the time of the accident. Specifically, a construction employee was standing on the platform in a raised position while attempting to move the lift to his left. Upon releasing the control to stop the machine, the machine did not respond and eventually crashed into a forklift. As a result of this incident, the rental company, by its contractual agreement with the construction company, was expecting to be indemnified because the employee had filed suit against the rental company for his injuries.

After receiving this assignment, a trip was made to the rental company’s location in order to conduct an examination of the machine. At first, no restrictions had been placed on the examination. Upon arrival, it was learned from rental company representatives that the lift could not be operated, disassembled, or tested in any way. The examination was to be limited to taking photographs and making notes of observations. One of the photographs that was taken is shown below. The photograph shows the condition of the control panel as it was found during the first examination. Note the dirty appearance and the type of joystick used.

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Approximately four months later, a joint examination was organized wherein various parties that had used or worked on the machine gathered to witness the testing and examination of the lift. The examination was begun with allowing all of the parties to photograph the machine. Although the machine had been photographed four months previous, the lift was again photographed. When the photographs were later reviewed and compared with the photographs taken at the first examination, it was then discovered that the control in place during the second examination was different form the control initially found on the machine. The appearance of the control shown below is the control that was on the lift during the second examination. Clearly, this control is different from the one shown in the photograph above. It then became obvious that not only had the control been replaced but, the only reason to replace the control was to hide the problem in the first control that most likely caused the accident. Once the lawyers were made aware of the switch, the claim for indemnification by the rental company soon disappeared. Presumably, the lawsuit filed by the employee against the rental company was settled.

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Although fraud exists, even in civil cases, it is fairly hard to prove. This aforementioned case was more the exception than the rule. Over the past 30 years, I have had several cases where I thought that something was missing or there was more to the situation than “meets the eye”. In all cases, at the end of the day, it’s what you can prove not what you can feel. If you can develop proof for what you can feel, then great! If not, then all you do is conclude based on your evidence. If you are going to commit fraud, be prepared to cover even the smallest detail. As illustrated above, no one thought that the control replacement would be noticed, but it was!

 

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P.E.s, Diplomates and Fellows

Not many people know what the letters P.E. stand for when associated with the practice of engineering.  No, they have nothing to do with physical education. The letters stand for “Professional Engineer”. The letters are placed after an individual’s name and are an indication that the individual has been examined and found competent to practice in their respective engineering discipline.   The letters are a legal designation much like MD is for doctors.  It is illegal for anyone to advertise themself as an engineer without having fulfilled the experience, reference,  and examination requirements.  Specific requirements are established by each state board but are generally the same across the  country. Diplomate and Fellow, on the other hand, are titles that are bestowed by engineering organizations on individuals that have made exceptional contributions in their field. These titles are honorary in nature and do not entitle the recipient to engage in private practice.  While these titles are a tremendous honor for the recipient, they are not a measure of an individual’s competence. You would think that the bestowing of such an honor would take into account competence, and for the most part, someone who is honored is seen as competent in their field. But, state registration laws for engineers do not consider titles in the process of evaluating one’s competence.  Lastly, no matter how many titles an individual has after their name, unless the letters P.E. are included, that individual has no right to advertise him or herself as an engineer. If  in doubt about someone’s legitimacy, contact your state board that governs the practice of architecture and engineering. If that board has no record of the individual in question, then, that person is most likely practicing illegally.

Examination of 2005 Gulfstream RV

Earlier this year, a preliminary examination of a 2005 Gulfstreram RV was conducted. It was determined that the engine in this vehicle was subject to recall due to a defective fuel damper retainer clip (GM recall # 06080A). Because of the potential for subrogation against the parties that were involved in the manufacture of the vehicle, each party was notified and invited to attend a joint examination of the vehicle. The examination took place on July 27, 2010 at a local dealership. The examination of  the vehicle was conducted in strict accordance with accepted practicies regarding disassembly of the vehicle. That is, nothing was removed until all parties had arrived and were available to view to the process together. In other words, everyone saw everything at the same time. More specifically, when the fuel damper retainer clip was uncovered, everyone was able to see and document the condition of the clip. The retainer clip was found to have been broken and as the recall stated, most likely allowed fuel leakage to occur. For those unfamilar with the subrogation process and generally speaking, the representatives attending the exam will  prepare their reports (if necessary).  At some point in the near future, the major parties will come together and try to work out an acceptable settlement. If there is no agreement, then the case will have to be settled in court.

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