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April Fools Falls

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After learning about the fake falls being perpetrated by non-union workers, one union member compared them to what he sees in many soccer games. He said, "We call them April Fools Falls."

Of all the accident types that cause injuries on New York City construction sites, falls are by far the most common, ahead of “struck by’s”, exposure to electricity, and being pinned, according to Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) statistics.

But now, if you believe what’s in a lawsuit from a New York based construction insurer named Tradesman, apparently many of those falls have been faked by non-union workers seeking to scam insurance companies. According to the lawsuit, these fraudsters are getting direction from dozens of local lawyers, doctors, and others. This story was originally reported in Newsbreak.

One union construction worker told Union Built Matters, the fake falls are “like those soccer players trying to get a call from the ref. Only in this case, they can get a job shut down and cost some innocent parties a lot of money.” He said that these fake accidents have been called “April Fools Falls.”

Falls Going Up

Recently insurance premiums for construction have skyrocketed. This fact alone is not surprising as more big projects are awarded to non-union contractors who are notorious for prioritizing profit over safety. But Tradesmen noticed a disproportionate increase in falls on work sites. So they started investigating these incidents and they say they have identified more than 650 fraudulent fall claims over the last four years.

Their investigation includes video of incidents, interviews, as well as deep dives into the data and histories of many New York construction projects and companies. Tradesman says they discovered a network of scammers taking advantage of vulnerable workers to seek and win hefty injury claims.

Bad “Actors”

Tradesman shared some of their videos with ABC Eyewitness News, which aired an expose in March. One of the videos depicted a woman on a site in upper Manhattan slowly walking down a constructed staircase. Then, in an apparent scene from “Acting Class 101,” she fell from one of the lower steps. From the video, the fall doesn't seem to be debilitating. But according to the lawsuit she filed against the property owners, she suffered injuries that have left her unable to work and with severe mental shock and anguish.

Another video showed two workers at a construction site in Queens choosing a spot to lay down beside the ongoing project, and then later footage from a cell phone showed EMT workers arriving to tend to them as they lay in the very same spots. Connecting the dots, it seems they simply laid down and called 911. And yet another video showed a man experience an apparently very measured fall who said that as a result he suffered spinal and knee injuries that required major surgery and caused permanent physical damage, which he stated in a lawsuit filed against the property owners.

A lawsuit says 4 law firms, 8 local doctors, and various medical professionals preyed on vulnerable primarily Spanish-speaking immigrants to engage in fraud.

Taking Advantage of the Vulnerable

The Tradesman lawsuit says 4 law firms, 8 local doctors, and various medical professionals preyed on vulnerable primarily Spanish-speaking immigrants to engage in the fraud.

It implies that the alleged scammers focused on non-union workers, many of whom are in the country without proper documentation and are therefore vulnerable to powerful interests who want to exploit their standing. Kirk Willis, an attorney representing Tradesman, said, “They train the migrants how to act at some of these staged accidents. And then when the people are hurt - allegedly hurt - they go to the lawyer first - not the doctor - and the lawyer then starts a course that sets up these fraudulent lawsuits.”

You Pick Up the Tab

This scheme affects you. Because the construction vendor working on your building is having to charge more to cover the increased insurance, and thus you're having to pay more in your home ownership or renter's costs.

Last week, a bill was introduced in Albany which would make it a felony to stage a construction site accident with the intention of defrauding insurance companies.

“These fraudulent acts have emerged as widespread insurance scams which lead to inflated costs in construction and housing throughout New York State,” said Assemblyman David Weprin.

One other solution to the April Fools Falls problem is to push for measures that favor construction unions, who do not participate in this kind of illegality.

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