Insurance lawyers demonstrate claimants' fundamental dishonesty as personal injury debate continues
Horwich Farrelly has helped a bus company defend two personal injury claims brought by football fans found to have been fundamental dishonesty.
Bringing fraudulent PI claims to light is becoming a speciality for the specialist insurance firm, which has already celebrated several high-profile victories following the implementation of section 57 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.
In the latest case, Neil Muscroft, 53, and Martin Costello, 51, were adjudged to have exaggerated the injuries they suffered when the First Bus they were travelling on was hit by a car in stop-start traffic. The bus was packed full of football supporters - many of whom were standing - while travelling to Leeds United's Elland Road stadium.
Despite the collision resulting in only minor damage to the two vehicles - and the occupants of the car emerging unharmed - the claimants argued they had suffered serious injuries.
In separate trials at Leeds County Court, the pair's claims were dismissed; Muscroft and Costello were fined £7,160 and £4,839 respectively for making fundamentally dishonesty claims.
First Bus said it received more than 50 PI claims from passengers in the aftermath of the incident as fans looked to cash-in on the accident. Transportation Claims, the company's internal claims unit, worked with Horwich Farrelly's counter fraud team to investigate a number of claims, including those of Muscroft and Costello, which were worth around £4,200 and £2,400 respectively.
The investigation revealed significant inconsistencies across the two claims with compelling evidence submitted during the two trials in April and June 2016. Muscroft claimed the force of the collision had thrown him to the ground, causing neck and shoulder injuries for a period lasting eight to ten months. However, statements from the car's occupants confirmed that the collision was extremely minor and could not feasibly have caused such injuries.
Meanwhile, CCTV footage from the bus showed passengers were so tightly packed that Muscroft would have been unable to fall. Despite stating he was in constant, severe pain many weeks after the incident, the investigation showed he had taken no time off work, had not mentioned his alleged injuries during GP appointments, and declined the offer of physiotherapy for which he had claimed.
Footage clearly showed Costello holding his neck while smiling in the moments after the incident. This was despite stating that the pain only began the following day. Once challenged in court by the judge, the claimant struggled to explain his actions.
Mark Hudson, fraud partner at Horwich Farrelly, said the cases sent a 'clear message to other would-be fraudsters that a fake claim is simply not worth it'.
'These claimants have ended up paying almost double the amount for which they claimed - a costly mistake they are likely to regret for some time to come,' he continued.
'We have a wide range of tools and many resources at our disposal which allow us to conduct detailed investigations in order to track down and stop fraudsters who cost the industry millions ever year, pushing up the premiums of innocent policyholders.'
Last year, investigations by Horwich Farrelly led to a semi-professional footballer being handed a suspended sentence for contempt of court after he faked a whiplash injury. Gary Burnett, 24, has already been ordered to pay £11,000 in legal costs by Wigan County Court to insurer Aviva after the court ruled his claim was fundamentally dishonest.
In a separate case, Horwich Farrelly also ensured a former Miss England contestant and semi-pro footballer was sentenced to two months in prison for falsifying injuries sustained in a road traffic accident. Amy Laban, 25, made a £3,000 claim against esure, but the scam was rumbled after the law firm obtained photos of her participating in a skydive while claiming to be suffering from whiplash.
Acting for esure in another claim, the law firm found a YouTube video of claimant Dawid Masel winning a kickboxing fight despite allegedly suffering from whiplash injuries lasting four months.
The Supreme Court recently opened the door for the setting aside of settlement agreements where new evidence of fraud comes to light. The decision followed the introduction of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 which allows a court to dismiss a personal injury claim for damages if the claimant has been fundamentally dishonest.
In his 2015 Autumn Statement, the then chancellor, George Osborne, announced that PI claims worth up to £5,000 would be moved to the small claims court. This, he asserted, would save the country £2bn a year in fraudulent claims, an average of £90 per motor insurance policy that the insurance industry has promised to pass on to consumers.
However, claims that fraud adds at least £50 to the average premium for UK insurance policies has been questioned by claimant lawyers who argue that the insurance industry's sums don't add up.
Andrew Twambley, managing partner of Amelans Solicitors and spokesperson for the A2J campaign, has called on the government to disregard the Association of British Insurers's 'spurious statistics', obtain empirical data, and make insurers take practical steps to combat fraud.