Getting tough on dishonest personal injury claims
Last week, in an unreported case, the High Court rejected a significant claim for damages brought by a claimant involved in a serious road traffic accident.
There was a head-on collision in which the claimant suffered serious fractures to both legs, one arm, a rib and his back as well as multiple soft tissue injuries. The other driver sadly died. The Claimant pursued his claim against her estate. It was admitted that the accident had been caused by her negligence.
The claimant, whose solicitors had withdrawn by the time of trial, rejected a settlement offer of £350,000 from the motor insurers. He asserted that the accident had left him barely able to walk, that he could not return to his job and was suffering from depression.
The insurers placed the claimant under covert surveillance. The secret footage showed him on a day trip, without a stick, spending time on the beach and driving up to 180 miles to get there and back. Other footage showed him taking his children to school, carrying heavy items and getting in and out of his car without difficulty.
In reviewing the footage the medical experts changed their opinions as to the severity of the injury sustained. The Judge concluded that what the claimant said about his condition “could not be believed” and that he was unable to accept this.
The claimant said that the footage was unrepresentative and did not show him on bad days. However the Judge rejected this and said that he was “play acting” to boost his claim. The Judge further found that if the claimant had not exaggerated his symptoms he would not have been dismissed by his employers and would have been able to return to work.
The claimant was awarded just £97,525 in damages. He had already received interim payments in excess of this and was ordered to return the surplus paid. In addition, the claimant has been ordered to pay substantial legal costs likely to run into 6 figures.
The outcome for this claimant would likely have been even worse under section 57 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 . This law has been enacted by parliament, but is not yet in force. This provides that the Court must dismiss a personal injury claim, the whole of the claim, where it makes a finding of fundamental dishonesty and it would be just to do so. The standard of proof is only on the balance of probabilities and the rule is expected to apply in every case where Court proceedings have been started after April 2015. Under this legislation, the claimant referred to above would probably have been awarded nothing, rather than £97,525 to be offset against part of his liability for legal costs.
Claimants who exaggerate their claims are now at risk of having their entire case struck out. They would be well advised to remain honest and reasonable throughout proceedings to ensure that they receive their compensation as appropriate. The alternative is that they risk being awarded nothing.