This thoroughgoing, even encyclopedic, history of insurance fraud in America is a first-rate, ripping yarn. With its...


"ACCIDENTALLY, ON PURPOSE: The Making of a Personal Injury Underworld in America"

This thoroughgoing, even encyclopedic, history of insurance fraud in America is a first-rate, ripping yarn. With its machines and speed and bustle, the Industrial Revolution saw a horrendous rise in accident rates. Train wrecks, street-car collisions, the dangerous chaos of the city, all spawned an almost endless series of mishaps. As Dornstein (a young, former private investigator specializing in insurance seams) ably demonstrates, it wasn't a far step from genuine accidents to the emergence of increasingly sophisticated and outrageous fakery--the money was just too good. He presents a Damon Ruyonesque cast of colorful rascals, from apple-peel specialists (dropping fruit peels and slipping profitably) to floppers, tumblers, and whiplashers. To make claimed injuries even more convincing, there were always ""Houses of Pain,"" where specialists would add bruising, scraping verisimilitude to a hustle. By the turn of the century, faking injuries was a big and professional business. At the bottom of the rung were the ""victims,"" often recent immigrants eager for a few extra dollars. Above them were the cappers, who arranged and packaged the cases and brought them to corrupt doctors and lawyers. While enforcement, particularly undercover investigation, has been stepped up in recent years, this underground system still generates billions of dollars in fraudulent insurance claims every year. Dornstein believes insurance companies should shoulder some of the blame; their aggressive marketing of new types of insurance policies (life insurance was once unheard of) created opportunities for fraud and reinforced the idea that someone should always be held financially responsible for accidents. And if payouts got too expensive, it was easy enough to raise premiums. Given the importance of the insurance industry to his history, Dornstein doesn't give it sufficient depth and due, the only significant oversight in this otherwise magnificently complete compendium.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 1997


Page Count: 468

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1996

Close Quickview