Skip to Content

The Williamson Rule to Defend Penal Code Section 550 Charges

Contra Costa County Physician Lawyer Daniel Horowitz in suit

Penal Code Section 550 Defenses - The Williamson Rule

Penal Code Section 550 is the insurance fraud section of California law that can make a business dispute with an insurance company a criminal offense.  This article explains a Williamson Rule challenge to the statute as applied to many cases.

The language is broad and the crime is a felony.  We have seen lawyers, doctors and patients charged with this offense.  Fortunately there are many technical defenses that either prevent these cases from going forward or severely limit the scope of the case against our clients. One of the most powerful tools against Penal Code Section 550 charges is the Williamson Rule.   This is a quick overview.

The Williamson Rule

The Williamson rule, which precludes criminal prosecution under a general statute if there is a more specific statute that applies to the defendant's conduct. (In re Williamson (1954) 43 Cal.2d 651 Often this distinction makes no difference. The specific crime is often just as serious as the more general crime.

History helps explain the Williamson Rule. In California we created a state and laws were invented. The criminal laws (California Penal Code) was and is the only source of crimes. So … if the Legislature forgot to create Penal Code section 187 which defines murder then murder would be legal in California. This rule means that laws are sometimes filed with variations on a theme to make sure that a crime is created.

Penal Code section 550 makes it a crime to:

  1. Knowingly present or cause to be presented any false or fraudulent claim for the payment of a loss or injury, including payment of a loss or injury under a contract of insurance.

It also makes it a crime to:

(2) Knowingly present multiple claims for the same loss or injury, including presentation of multiple claims to more than one insurer, with an intent to defraud.

It is the same statute but the conduct is different. If you wanted to write one law that includes both of these types of wrongdoing (1. A fake claim & 2. Claiming the same injury twice) it might be difficult. So instead they spell out the different types of fraud.

One defense to a violation of Penal Code section 550 is that they facts of “your” particular case do not fit any of the sections of the statute specifically enough to be a crime.

The Williamson rule essentially says that if the Legislature very carefully articulates a crime and you violate that crime, the commission of the specific crime is it. That is what is against the law. To say that Section 550 which is a more serious charge can be inserted based upon the judgment of the prosecutor allows a prosecutor to substitute her/his judgment for that of the law making body.

We find that the Williamson Rule is just one of the many highly technical defenses that are effective in challenging medical fraud and insurance fraud prosecutions. Our expert criminal defense attorneys work nationwide defending fraud cases. Please call us if we can assist you.

Daniel Horowitz and his team of healthcare lawyers have their office in Lafayette, California (Contra Costa County). His work takes him throughout the state. He recently had all charges dismissed in a Riverside (Orange County) workers compensation fraud case charged under PC 550. Daniel represents clients throughout the State of California and he is a criminal defense specialist (certified by the State of California, Board of Legal Specialization)