Posted on 30th November 2022 by Chris Makin

Avoid The Iffy Claims

Some months ago I wrote about the case of Liverpool Victoria Insurance Company Ltd -v- Dr Asef Zafar [2019] EWCA Civ 392 which concerned a fraudulent claim by a taxi driver, in my home town of Huddersfield (though we are not all criminals here!).  You can read about it on my blog. A medical expert had produced a report which he was asked to alter so as to improve the claimant’s case. He did so without seeing the claimant again, and he signed a statement of truth. The insurers got to hear about this, they took action against the solicitor and the doctor, and the outcome was that the (ex)-solicitor was sent to jail, and the doctor was given a suspended sentence and, no doubt, lost his highly profitable expert practice.

Litigators need to be aware that insurers are not so ready as they were to pay out on claims without careful enquiry.

Another example is Shah -v- Aviva Insurance, judgment given on 19 April 2021 by Recorder Stephens sitting at Warwick County Court.

The Claim

The claim was for personal injury and special damages including:

  • Hire – £23,010.00 
  • Recovery charge – £250.00
  • Storage charges – £3,270.00
  • Engineer’s fee – £144.00
  • Physiotherapy – £600.00

Developments up to trial

The accident had indeed happened, so liability was admitted. That was the only genuine part of the claim!

A firm called Verisk handled the pre-litigation on Aviva’s behalf. The credit hire claim of £23,010 and the storage charges of £3,270 were reported on, and there were concerns. The vehicle had been advertised for sale at the claimant’s property when it should have been in storage, and insurance on the vehicle did not even start until after the hire period had ended.

The claimant issued proceedings, but without the personal injury claim. The defendant allowed proceedings to be amended so as to include the personal injury claim, and that allowed them to assert fundamental dishonesty on the whole claim.

There were problems with the personal injury, because the claimant had not told the medical expert that he had attended hospital for back pain months before the accident, yet that was clear from his medical records.

The claimant’s financial disclosure was also defective. He had not disclosed full details of his earnings, and he had sufficient funds to repair the vehicle earlier than he did, which would have reduced both the hire and the storage charges – but for the deficiencies already described.

When challenged on these defects, the claimant served supplementary evidence. Again there were inconsistencies, principally that the vehicle had been taken out of storage on 12 February 2019 yet storage had been claimed up to 8 March 2019.

The Trial

At trial further issues arose when the claimant was cross examined:

  • He said he had driven his car home from the accident and also to the storage facility. So the vehicle was not recovered, and the claim for £250 was false.
  • He could not explain why he had claimed storage up to 8th March 2019 when he admitted to removing the car from storage on 12th February 2019.
  • When asked why he had claimed recovery, he said that he thought this related to its being delivered to the purchaser of his vehicle.
  • But that wasn’t right either, since he then said that he drove his vehicle to the purchaser.
  • When Counsel put it to him that his claim for recovery was fundamentally dishonest, he claimed he couldn’t understand the question.
  • He admitted that he had another private vehicle at home, despite his assertion that he needed the hire vehicle for social use. 
  • He was asked about physiotherapy treatment and claimed that he had undertaken it but could not explain why there was no documentary evidence to support it. It transpired that he had had no such treatment.

The Outcome

The Judge found that the claims for recovery and storage were fundamentally dishonest. The entire claim was dismissed and QOCS (Qualified One-Way Costs Shifting) was disapplied, with the defendant being awarded £10,000 in costs. The Judge also granted the defendant’s application to join the credit hire organisation (CHO) into proceedings for the purposes of a non-party costs order.

The Moral

This was clearly a claimant who thought the insurer would be a “soft touch”, but was not intelligent enough to recognise the many deficiencies in his story.  But the most disturbing aspect is that most of these deficiencies could, and should, have been recognised by the lawyers acting for the claimant.  Professional reputations are valuable, and no lawyer should sully their reputation by acting for claimants such as this.  It just isn’t worth it.

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