Tackling fraudulent claims. Success for North Yorkshire County Council.
Jonathan Taylor, Chartered Legal Executive in the Langleys Insurance Team, has recently represented North Yorkshire County Council in relation to committal proceedings which resulted in securing a costs order against a dishonest claimant.
The details of the case
The claim arose as a result of an accident that allegedly took place at 03:00 on 30 April 2014. The claimant stated he fell due to missing cobbles in a footpath in Scarborough.
The claimant provided photographs showing missing cobble stones along the footpath in support of his claim. At that stage it appeared genuine as there were missing cobble stones in the photographs and the Council admitted liability. However, settlement was not achievable due to arguments of contributory negligence, which were denied.
Upon receipt of proceedings we undertook further investigations and located a Google street view image of the footpath, captured in October 2014. The image demonstrated that in October 2014 (6 months post-accident), there were no missing cobbles in the footpath, as alleged. The defect shown in the claimant’s photographs was therefore not present at the time of the alleged accident.
Proceedings in the County Court
As a result of the above, the Court gave us permission to resile from the admission of liability. Shortly after the claimant discontinued his claim, but had QOCS protection which left the Council to bear the costs of defending the claim. However, to overcome this we made an application to set aside the notice of discontinuance and ask the Court to strike the claim out. This had the added benefit that it set a firm precedent to would-be fraudsters and deter firms taking on claims against the Council which may not be genuine.
The application was successful and there was a finding that the claimant had been fundamentally dishonest. As a result, the claimant was also ordered to pay the Council’s costs, although no monies were received at that stage.
Proceedings in the High Court
Not deterred, we applied for permission to make a committal application against the claimant. However, on the morning of the hearing, the claimant agreed to pay the entirety of the Council’s costs, including the committal proceedings.
What this outcome means
This outcome emphasises the importance of taking positive steps to send out a clear message that no litigant can consider himself to be protected from legal action if he pursues a fraudulent injury claim.
It may also result in a costs recovery, as happened here, which can be difficult even where there is an order made by a County Court Judge.
Ed James (Ropewalk Chambers) who was instructed in relation to the strike out application and the application for permission to make a committal application stated that: “This is another example of a local authority taking a robust approach to a fraudulent claim by instigating committal proceedings in the High Court off the back of a finding of fundamental dishonesty. Where appropriate, it is important that contempt cases are pursued to deter future fraudulent claims”.