If the good folks at the National Insurance Crime Bureau are to be believed, the ol’ slip-and-fall con is thriving anew these days. Yet today’s practitioners of this tried-and-true scam are rank amateurs compared to Patricia Latham, who became a wealthy woman by perfecting the art of slip-and-fall. Her dedication to her craft was as deep as it was destructive, as this 1991 Orlando Sentinel article makes clear:
Using heavy rubber bands to bind her wrists and her son as a disguised witness to falls she staged, Patricia Latham was able to defraud insurance companies of thousands of dollars.
Latham, 59, a former Palm Beach and Broward County schoolteacher, her husband, Leroy, 62, and their son, David, 30, pleaded guilty on Thursday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court to swindling insurance companies…
The family’s confessions, which have yet to be made public, outline the drastic steps the family took to conduct the insurance schemes. Those steps included having David Latham physically harm his mother to make it appear she was injured during her staged falls. The couple also used their son as a backup witness in disguise, creating false names and establishing fictitious addresses for him to help support their claims.
The trio maintained during their confessions that a 1986 injury Patricia Latham sustained at a West Palm Beach McDonald`s restaurant was “a real slip and fall, but the injury started to heal too fast.” When Latham noted the quick healing of the hand she used to draw on classroom chalkboards, she did research. Through medical books, she found similar conditions.
When visiting attorneys, doctors or making court appearances, Patricia Latham would use her new medical knowledge to create a swollen hand. She wore sweat bands on her wrist, covering them with very tight rubber bands, for three to four hours before appearing.
After she was awarded $500,000 in the McDonald`s case, the family “intentionally went out” to look for “negligently repaired conditions” at restaurants and businesses. A poorly repaired carpet at Don Carter’s All- Star Lanes Ltd. in Boca Raton gave them their next target.
Once again, the sweat bands and rubber bands were used, but this time on both arms. “They had their son severely manipulate her hand to almost break it,” as they sat in a car in the bowling alley parking lot.
In 1988, Patricia Latham sued the bowling alley, but the lawsuit was dropped after insurance investigators filmed her using her hands during a trip to Walt Disney World.
Before her August arrest, Patricia Latham had fled from a San Diego courtroom. She was in the midst of a trial for a civil suit filed against a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant where she had staged another fall.
Yet Latham’s intelligence seems to have been of a very specific and devious nature, for she was a mess when it came to dealing with more ordinary aspects of life. Despite earning enough illicit money to live comfortably for many years, she wound up broke. I have to assume that Latham was less interested in the money than in the thrill of beating the system. We all have a desire to feel that we are not, in fact, at the mercy of circumstance. For Latham, her way of tasting that bit of human freedom was to pretend that she had broken her hands after slipping in a puddle of KFC barbecue sauce. To each her own.