What Did Ex Pennsylvania Superior Judge Michael Joyce Do To Deserve Being Sentenced To A 46 Month Prison Term?
Joyce was convicted in November 2008 of defrauding two insurance companies of $440,000 -- $390,000 from Erie Insurance Group and $50,000 from State Farm Insurance Company. His case stems from a personal injury claim he made involving a low speed rear end collision that happened in 2001.
His criminal case went to trial in Federal Court, and the jury found him guilty of insurance fraud, specifically for mailing false information to the insurance companies about the extent of the injuries he suffered in the car accident. Joyce told the companies his back and neck pain was so severe that he could no longer golf or scuba dive, though Joyce continued to engage in those and other activities. Joyce also claimed his injuries were so severe that he was unable to run for state Supreme Court in 2001 and 2003 and further that he had secured the state Republican nomination for a vacancy on the state Supreme Court, but that the injuries prevented him from running. His conviction was upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in April 2010.
It is certainly disgraceful that a Superior Court judge would participate in this kind of ruse. Nor does it bolster confidence in the Pennsylvania judicial system. Consider what the public must think about our judges when reading about Joyce, and about other Pennsylvania jurists gone bad. I've written before on this blog about the "cash for kids" scheme in Luzerne County which has resulted in the guilty plea of former Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Conahan and pending charges against former Judge Mark A. Ciavarella. Should we expect better conduct form our jurists? Of course we should.
But, let's specifically examine what Joyce did, and what it means for any individual claiming personal injuries. It's not hard to see what he did wrong, and what he did to draw attention to himself. Did he exaggerate his personal injuries? Possibly, but maybe not. We obviously do not have access to his medical records. But perhaps they do support a claim that would warrant a substantial settlement from two insurance companies. Keep in mind that he had to have medical records to bolster his injury claim. No insurance company is going to offer any injury victim $50,000 and $390,000 without medical evidence of the injury claimed, for instance MRI and EMG results showing objective evidence of injury to the spine, as well as other medical evidence. Insurance adjusters are well trained at evaluating medical records, (or they have nurses or doctors to review more complicated records for them).
Did he also fluff up his wage loss claim? It sounds like he did. It also sounds like he had no real way to prove his wage loss claim.
What Joyce did was lie to the insurance companies about how the injuries affected his activity level, both in his personal life and in his professional life. He exaggerated how the injuries affected his life. Did the insurance companies who paid him money conduct videotape surveillance or other forms of investigation on Joyce both during the pending injury claim and after it settled? You bet they did. That's what they turned over to the federal prosecutors. (The prosecutors also used the testimony of Joyce's ex-fiancee. She apparently did not help Joyce out when testifying about the sporting activities she witnessed him participate in).
Was Joyce a target for prosecutors due to his status? Possibly. But every personal injury claimant is a target for prosecution if that claimant gives false information to an insurance company. Insurance adjusters are not only trained in evaluating medical records, they are also well trained in spotting exaggerated claims, (although Joyce's case sounds like it wasn't that hard to spot).
A word here on what is required to truthfully and accurately prove wage loss. In proving your wage loss claim (which is in essence what Joyce was trying to do when he claimed he could not run for the State Supreme Court) you, the personal injury claimant, will need proof of medical injury and disability from a treating doctor in the form of a disability report; and to prove past lost wages you will also need proof from your employer that you were unable to work. Ultimately your doctor and your employer may have to testify at trial, and they will testify from the documentation that they provided in your case. Proofs in a lost earning capacity claim or future lost wages, as well as past and future lost wages for a self employed individual are a little harder to put together, but certainly not impossible. Nevertheless, true, accurate and credible documentation to support your lost earnings, wage loss, future lost earnings, lost earning capacity and the like is what is required. Unsupported and unsubstantiated documentation of wage loss will only get you in hot water.