Did lawyer know accidents were staged? Court cites his advice on number of car passengers
A Massachusetts appeals court is citing a lawyer’s advice about staging accidents in a decision upholding his conviction on insurance fraud and larceny charges.
The appeals upheld the conviction of lawyer James Hyde in a Dec. 21 opinion (PDF) noted by the Legal Profession Blog. Hyde’s conviction stemmed from two staged automobile accidents in October and December 2002.
Hyde had argued prosecutors failed to prove he knew the two particular accidents were staged. The appeals court, however, cited evidence of Hyde’s conversations with a chiropractic employee, Leo Lopez, who testified against Hyde at trial.
“As Lopez became friendly with Hyde, the two had a number of private conversations where Hyde made specific suggestions about how best to stage the accidents,” the court said. “For example, Hyde told Lopez that there were three insurance companies to be avoided, because they were ‘really going hard investigating the accidents.’ On four or five occasions, Hyde told Lopez to keep the number of people in a vehicle to no more than three. [Another chiropractic employee] testified to similar conversations with Hyde in which Hyde explained that too many passengers ‘would bring up red flags’ with the insurance companies. On the other hand, Lopez also understood from discussions with [the chiropractic clinic owner], that if there were too few passengers, there would not be enough money.”
Though neither Lopez nor the other chiropractic employee testified they had told Hyde the two accidents were staged, an “aggregation of so many telltale indications” permitted the conclusion that Hyde knew of the staging, the court said. They included: no first responders were called to the accidents, no independent witnesses were identified, Lopez was splitting the referral fee with another chiropractic employee, and Hyde “promptly abandoned the cases” when the insurer denied the claims.