Workers' Comp Scams That Push the Limits

ByABC News via GMA logo
February 24, 2004, 9:02 PM

March 3 -- Former Pinellas County, Fla., bus driver Bruce Gilbert is a full-grown man who talked like a 5-year-old, a problem his wife blamed on an "on-the-job" accident.

Over 10 years, the Gilberts collected $774,000 in workers' compensation, enough for plenty of Bruce's favorite foods.

When an insurance investigator from the Florida League of Cities asked what his favorite foods were, Bruce Gilbert responded in a childlike voice: "Pizza and spaghetti." Asked about his favorite books, he said he liked books "about animals." His wife claimed he had a regressive mental ailment that effectively gave him the mental capacity of a child of about 5.

But a private eye investigating Bruce Gilbert's disability found that the ex-bus driver, who now lives in Lake City, Fla., could not only still drive, but was also hunting and playing golf. Police in Columbia County, Fla., nabbed him on the golf course in April 2000.

"You're under arrest for workers' compensation fraud and grand theft," the arresting officer said. "Get out of the golf cart, please."

Gilbert kept up his baby talk even after being cuffed.

"They hurt me," he said. "Mommy. My mommy."

Bruce Speaks in Sentences

Thousands of Americans are getting paid for not going to work through workers' compensation scams that even by the smallest estimates cost $1 billion a year. Workers' comp fraud accounts for about 1 percent to 2 percent of all workers' comp payments, according to J. Paul Leigh, a professor of the University of California, Davis. Some of the cases show just how far people will go to collect.

Numbers are very vague for workers' comp fraud. But the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud says all types of insurance fraud cost the average American household about $950 a year.

When Bruce Gilbert was arrested, so was his wife, Alice. While the Gilberts were alone in the police car, they didn't know investigators had left an audiotape recorder running. As the tape turned, Bruce's vocabulary suddenly expanded.

"Workmen's compensation those bas-----," he said.