Covea Insurance plc v Shirley Paxton (2015)
QBD (Judge Freedman QC)
An individual who presented a fraudulent personal injury claim, even though she was not present in the vehicle at the time of the collision was committed for contempt of court and was sentenced to 4 months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months. Shirley Paxton brought the claim after she was “pestered” to do so, having been inundated by calls from a claims management company. She continued with the fraudulent claim even after she was presented with a recording of a call made after the accident, when she stated that she was at a cash machine when the collision occurred.
Paxton discontinued her claim just days before an application to strike out her claim on the basis it was fraudulent, and DWF were instructed to apply for a committal for contempt on behalf of Covea on the basis that she had made four false statements of truth. Senior Solicitor, Carrie Pearson who acted for Covea examines the outcome of the committal hearing which saw the Paxton plead guilty to the contempt.
The respondent, Shirley Paxton brought a claim for damages against Covea's policyholder, arising out of what was a genuine road traffic accident that occurred in February 2011, when Covea’s policyholder collided with Paxton’s parked vehicle. Although no claim for vehicle damage was advanced by Paxton immediately after the collision had taken place or at all, two years later, she presented a claim to the applicant by way of Claims Notification Form alleging that she was injured.
Concerned at the late notification of the claim and the fact that the Paxton had not presented a claim for the accident damage to her vehicle, Covea investigated the claim. When interviewed in connection with the claim, Covea’s policyholder denied that Paxton was in the vehicle at the time of the collision.
Paxton brought court proceedings in 2013, making a claim for injury and for the costs of treatment fees, limiting her claim to £15,000. DWF were instructed to defend the claim and deny liability on the basis that the Paxton was not in the vehicle. After tenaciously pursuing a number of different lines of enquiry, DWF were able to obtain a copy of a call recording of Paxton initially reporting the incident, the very evening it had taken place. During the course of that call, she stated that she was not in the vehicle at the time of the collision, but was at a cash machine.
Pursuant to witness statement exchange, the call recording evidence was served upon Paxton together with a witness statement from Covea’s policyholder. Paxton’s witness statement reaffirmed her claim and, presumably in an effort to convince Covea that her claim was a genuine one, she suggested in her witness statement that she was concerned that Covea’s policyholder was going to leave the scene of the accident. After exchange had taken place, Paxton went on to make not one, but two, Part 36 offers. Covea responded by rejecting both of those offers and DWF were instructed to make an application to strike out the claim on the basis that it was a fraud.
Despite initial protestations from Paxton that the call recording had been misconstrued, she filed a Notice of Discontinuance days before the application to strike out the claim was to be heard.
An application to bring committal proceedings was then made. Paxton admitted the contempt and the application to bring committal proceedings was granted by consent.
The committal hearing
The matter was subsequently listed for committal before HHJ Freedman, Covea contending that Paxton had made four false statements of truth during the course of pursuing her fraudulent claim.
At the committal hearing the Judge determined that this was a case which was concocted. It had been advanced on an utterly deceitful basis, as she had claimed that she was the occupant of the vehicle and that she suffered personal injury, which were found to be calculated and deliberate falsehoods.
In mitigation, Paxton made a number of representations:
- she had been ‘cajoled’ into making the claim, by a series of cold calls encouraging her to bring a claim some time after the incident;
- she withdrew her claim (albeit late in the day);
- she did not perjure herself at court but discontinued her claim in advance of any trial; and
- she admitted the contempt at the earliest stage when the application was made.
In addition, personal mitigation was advanced: Paxton was a foster carer on the verge of adopting her current foster child and she was caring for her father who had recently been diagnosed with leukaemia.
HHJ Freedman held:
- Shirley Paxton had received a large volume of calls encouraging her to make a claim
- until he listened to the mitigation, the Judge felt that there was no alternative but to pass an immediate term of custody; but
- given the mitigation, the Judge felt that it was justified (just) for him to suspend the sentence instead
- Paxton was consequently sentenced to 4 months' imprisonment, suspended for 12 months
- bringing proceedings for contempt was an entirely reasonable and appropriate decision to take
Paxton has been ordered to pay over £14,000 in costs in respect of the fraudulent claim for compensation and has agreed to pay £8,000 towards Covea’s costs of the contempt proceedings.
This case demonstrates that even seemingly responsible, law abiding citizens can be persuaded to pursue a claim. As a foster carer Paxton held a position of great responsibility, but was still prepared to roll the dice and take a chance.
Paxton had been pestered into bringing a claim by a number of cold calls. His Honour made the observation that claims companies obtain substantial financial advantage as a result of causing such claims to be made. Paxton only stood to gain a few thousand pounds if she had been successful but had been left with her reputation in tatters and having to find a way of meeting the costs of the failed claim and the contempt at over £20,000.
Despite the modest value of the claim, with the first Part 36 offer advanced being in the sum of £4,000, the Court nevertheless viewed this type of fraud as far more serious than a fraudulent claim involving exaggeration.
Those who are persuaded by cold callers to bring a false personal injury claim should be beware. Even though this claim was of low value and sprang from a genuine accident, it was thoroughly investigated and the fraud was uncovered.
The outcome of this case represents yet another success for the insurance industry in the fight against insurance fraud.