Miss Ladan Abdi Jama V Zenith Insurance Plc County Court at Guildford 30/11/2015 & 01/12/2015 Before: District Judge Bell

A Claimant who brought a suspected fraudulent road traffic accident claim, claiming for personal injury, hire charges in the sum of £56,000 and storage and recovery charges in the sum of over £16,000 failed after the Defendant presented forensic engineering evidence that the accident could not have occurred as the Claimant had suggested. The Defendant contended that the accident had been deliberately induced and that the Claimant was not driving, as she had suggested.

Acting for the insurers in defence of the proceedings, DWF Senior Paralegal, Lauren Gallagher looks at the outcome of the trial that saw District Judge Bell dismiss the claim and order the Claimant to pay the Defendant’s costs.

Background

DWF LLP were instructed to defend claims brought against the Defendant in relation to a road traffic incident which occurred in March 2013. The Claimant alleged that she was driving along the A1, in a Volkswagen Touran, when the Defendant’s Policyholder collided with the rear of her vehicle whilst travelling in his Land Rover Freelander. The Claimant alleged that she was carrying three passengers.

The Defendant’s evidence was that an unidentified vehicle travelling in front of the Touran came to a complete halt in the road, having previously been driven erratically. The Claimant also braked hard and came to a complete stop.  In response, the Land Rover was brought to a stop, without colliding with the rear of the Touran, but was then shunted forwards, having been struck by a Ford Mondeo which was travelling behind the Land Rover.

After the collision had occurred, the vehicle that had been travelling in front of the Touran drove off at speed.

The Defendant’s Policyholder took a photograph of the Mondeo at the scene after the incident and obtained his telephone number. The Defendant’s Policyholder also asserted that the driver of the Touran was a male, not a female as was being claimed.

The Claimant’s claim included a hire claim in the sum of £56,000 and a claim for recovery and storage charges for more than £16,000, in addition to a claim for personal injury and physiotherapy charges. All of the alleged passengers in the Touran also intimated claims against the Defendant, but chose not to issue proceedings at the same time as the Claimant.

Proceedings

Proceedings were issued in July 2013 and a Defence was filed in which fraud was pleaded. Following directions, the matter was listed for a two day trial in the County Court at Guildford.

The Defendant instructed a forensic engineer who physically inspected both the Touran and the Land Rover in order to consider the mechanics of the accident. The Defendant’s Policyholder also believed that further damage had been caused to the Touran post-incident and the engineer was also instructed to consider this point. In response, the Claimant chose to instruct a vehicle assessor to provide a report. The parties were granted permission to rely on the oral evidence of the engineer and the assessor.

Ahead of the trial, the Defendant raised a number of Part 18 questions with the Claimant, including the number of impacts that she felt. DWF were also able to speak to the driver of the Mondeo, Mr Iqbal, over the telephone and put to him the version of events as given by the driver of the Defendant’s Policyholder and whilst Mr Iqbal confirmed that version of events he was unwilling to cooperate further. 

Findings

Sitting in the County Court at Guildford on 1 December 2015, the Judge dismissed the claim:

  • The Judge preferred the evidence of the Defendant’s Policyholder and engineer and held that the Land Rover had avoided a collision with the rear of the Volkswagen but was shunted forwards by the Ford Mondeo; and
  • The Claimant did not suffer injury and she did not undergo physiotherapy.
  • The Claimant did not give a truthful account about attending at her GP and at hospital.
  • The Claimant ‘probably wasn’t the driver of the Volkswagen’.
  • The Judge noted that the Claimant had been involved in four accidents in less than two years.
  • The Judge accepted the evidence in respect of the telephone conversation that had taken place between the driver of the Mondeo and Lauren Gallagher about how the collision had taken place.

Having made those findings, the Judge stated that he did not need to find fraud, but that he had serious concerns and that the Claimant had not been frank and truthful. Having dismissed the claim, the Judge ordered the Claimant to pay the Defendant’s costs in this pre-QOCS case, ordering the Claimant to make an immediate interim payment in respect of those costs in the sum of £10,000.

Comment

Whilst fraud had been positively pleaded, much of the case turned on the evidence of the expert engineers. The Claimant’s assessor did not inspect either vehicle, relying instead on the photos that were available. The Defendant’s engineer had inspected the Land Rover and the Touran and was able to explain to the court why the accident damage better complimented the Defendant’s Policyholder’s evidence. The engineer’s evidence, coupled with that of the Defendant’s Policyholder, meant that the Judge preferred the Defendant’s case as to the sequence of impacts.

The Claimant’s case did not get off to a good start as she failed to attend court on time, citing childcare issues. She eventually arrived at Court in the afternoon. The Claimant performed badly under cross-examination and repeatedly tailored her evidence, once contradictory evidence was highlighted. She had also failed to serve witness evidence from the alleged passengers.

The credibility of a witness often plays a key role in cases where fraud is alleged. The Defendant had anticipated that the Claimant would perform as a poor witness due to various inconsistencies throughout her CNF, medical report, witness statements and Part 18 replies. The fact that she performed so badly in the witness box meant that it would always be difficult for her to prove her claim, especially when her performance contrasted so sharply with that of the Defendant’s Policyholder.

In the circumstances, having regard to the claim that was dismissed and the fact that the passengers’ claims will go no further, the Defendant made a global saving of £156,000.