Nine Claimants (adults and minors), who were all members of the same family, were driving two cars (a Hyundai and a Toyota) 'in convoy' when the Defendant allegedly hit one of the cars from behind.

Background

The Claimants alleged that their vehicles were stationary at a roundabout, with the Hyundai immediately in front of the Toyota (driven by the First Claimant), when the Defendant's car suddenly hit the Yaris from behind, shunting it into the back of the Hyundai.

All Claimants reported that they suffered personal injury, although they proceeded to complete their shopping before having their injuries investigated. Significant damage to both cars was also alleged.

The Defendant admitted that the collision took place, but in wholly different circumstances. She noted she had travelled behind the Claimants for ten minutes in slow traffic, when the First Claimant suddenly braked and a low speed collision occurred. The Defendant did not witness a second collision, but there was no apparent damage to the Hyundai and there was only a small dent to the bumper of the Toyota.

Although it was not alleged this was an induced accident, the defence alleged that the claims were fraudulent based on the following:

  1. The second collision was a complete fabrication
  2. The reported injuries were untrue or exaggerated
  3. The Claimants falsely attributed previous vehicle damage to this collision

Outcome

Recorder Thomas QC heard the case over two days at Manchester County Court. It was found that the Defendant was responsible for the first collision, which happened at low speed and was minor in nature.

The Judge found that the Claimant's evidence in relation to injury affected his view on their credibility as whole; namely there was "such a clear pattern of inconsistent reporting that it is inconceivable that there could be any innocent explanation" and the discrepancies in their accounts of injury were "so great that they could only be explained by the fact that they were deliberate lies." As such, the Judge was largely unable to rely on their evidence in respect of liability or quantum.

The Judge was satisfied "to a high standard" that the First Claimant and Fifth Claimant (driver of the Hyundai) advanced deliberately exaggerated claims in respect of the severity of the accident and the extent of their injuries (the scale of which "substantially changed the nature of the claims"). Their desire to seek medical attention was purely in pursuit of evidence to support their claims and not as a result of genuine need for treatment.

The Judge was not persuaded of anything more than minor damage to the Toyota (nor that it was shunted into the Hyundai causing any damage). The Judge preferred the Defendant's evidence, given that a detailed statement was made only a month after the accident, her further accounts were clear and consistent and that she was a "measured and careful witness."

An award of £200 was made for the insurance policy excess in respect of the damage to the Toyota on the basis of the Defendant's concession that she had caused damage to the bumper and the damage to her own car was consistent.

In light of the above, the Judge found the First Claimant to be fundamentally dishonest. The personal injury claims from the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Claimants were also dismissed, based on a finding of fundamentally dishonesty.

Lessons Learned

  • Despite there being medical evidence to suggest that the First Claimant had suffered minor injury, this did not preclude a finding of fundamental dishonesty. Indeed, it was the inconsistencies between this report and the First Claimant's other accounts that permitted a fundamental dishonesty finding to be made.
  • Interestingly, despite medical evidence reporting muscle spasms in the case of the First Claimant, the Judge found there not to be any objective evidence of injury (presumably because he did not attribute this to the accident). This is a useful point for defendants and suggests that, even in cases where it may seem as though objective evidence of injury exists, it is worthwhile taking a firm stance in denying any association of the injury with the accident, particularly where there is evidence to undermine the claimant's credibility.
  • It was interesting to note that the Second and Third Claimants succeeded in their claims for personal injury, notwithstanding the findings made in respect of the other seven Claimants. It seems unlikely that they were injured on any accepted evidence of the other parties; however they sought to distance themselves from the other Claimants' accounts and did not provide inconsistent accounts. It is important to note that each claimant's claim will be assessed on its own merits.
  • The award of fast-track costs for the Second and Third Claimant appear contentious given their claim fell within the small claims limit. The imposition of these costs effectively sought to penalise the defendants for not settling these claims prior to trial.
  • Although the First Claimant was found to be fundamentally dishonest and his personal injury claim was dismissed, he was still awarded £200 for property damage. Had the accident occurred after 13 April 2015, a s. 57 application for fundamental dishonesty application could have been made (as opposed to as an exception to QOCS). If such a finding was made, providing the Claimant would not have suffered 'substantial injustice' (which seems unlikely given the amount at stake), the Judge would have had been compelled to strike out the claim in its entirety. Accordingly, the First Claimant would not have been able to recover the £200 policy excess.
  • Documentary engineering evidence had to be used in this case, due the repairs being completed prior to the vehicles being inspected by the Defendant. The point was raised in the judgment that a fraud defence should be raised as early as possible, as this would have allowed the vehicles to be physically examined in order to reach a stronger conclusion. Of course, this is usually not possible in fraud cases due to the claimants seeking to 'dispose' of the evidence as quickly as possible.