Unfortunately, when deer cause accidents, some motorists try to take advantage of the situation by attempting to get extra insurance benefits – or blame another type of accident on a deer, according to the Pennsylvania Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority (IFPA).

Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for number of deer-related crashes. According to State Farm’s annual deer claim study, Pennsylvania drivers now have a one in 63 chance of a crash, a 6.3 percent increase from 2016. November has the highest rates of accidents involving deer, as rutting season extends through the month, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

“Often what we see in deer-related insurance fraud cases is a driver whose car is hit by a deer realizing they don’t have comprehensive coverage, who upgrades their coverage, but delays reporting the accident and then claims it happened after their coverage was upgraded,” said Tom Donahue, IFPA Executive Director and former insurance investigator. “This is insurance fraud, and people in PA get arrested and prosecuted for it.”

“If the driver swerves to miss a deer and hits a tree, a fence or telephone pole, that accident falls under their collision coverage,” explains Donahue. “The optional comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy covers incidents such as fire, theft, vandalism, flood, hail, falling or flying objects, and damage due to an animal – such as a deer. Comprehensive often carries a lower deductible than collision coverage.”

Crashes that involve deer are considered not-at-fault accidents under Pennsylvania law, so insurance companies cannot increase the premiums of – or otherwise penalize – policyholders.

How to avoid getting snagged on the antlers of insurance fraud? Donahue advises insurance consumers to understand their policies – what’s covered, what’s not, and think about possibly upgrading their coverage before the unexpected happens.

Recent examples across PA

Pesky Car Payments: A Butler County woman added gap, rental, towing and custom equipment insurance coverage to her auto policy, and then claimed that she swerved her car to avoid hitting a deer, causing the vehicle to roll over. The woman owed almost $10,000 on her vehicle and the new upgraded policy would have paid off the balance in full. However, an investigation allegedly revealed that the accident occurred before the policy changes were made. She was arrested and charged with one count of insurance fraud and one count of criminal attempt/theft by deception.

P.M.? We Meant A.M. A Centre County couple was arrested after claiming that their Pontiac Grand Am had been struck by a deer at 8:15 a.m. – the morning after they’d made a late-night call to their insurance company to add comprehensive coverage. However, an investigation revealed that the husband allegedly told the person who had inspected the car that the deer strike occurred at 8:30 p.m. the date of the inspection, several hours before comprehensive coverage was added to the policy. Husband and wife were each charged with two counts of insurance fraud and one count of criminal attempt/theft by deception.

Try, Try Again: A Crawford County woman called her insurance company to report that her vehicle was damaged when it struck a deer. During the call, the company informed the woman that her policy had been canceled three days earlier for non-payment. The woman then made a payment to the insurer and her coverage was reinstated. Approximately nine days later, she again contacted her insurer and claimed that her vehicle had been damaged by a deer strike, but this time claimed the accident happened after her insurance was reinstated. She subsequently admitted that the deer strike occurred when her vehicle was uninsured. She was sentenced to serve 18 months of probation and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service and to pay all court costs.

What many don’t understand is that when a claim is made, a full investigation goes on behind the scenes to verify its legitimacy. If you break the law, you will be caught and prosecuted.

“Insurance fraud is a felony in Pennsylvania, it is a crime that costs families increased premiums and goods and services,” said Donahue. “Unfortunately, honest consumers and businesses pay the price for a few dishonest fraudsters.

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Report Insurance Fraud!

This website provides a listing of law enforcement agencies that fight fraud. To report anonymously, consumers can call the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s tip line at 1-800-TEL-NICB or the IFPA’s tip line at 1-888-565-IFPA.