In Aviva v Randive  EWHC 3152 (QB) the court allowed a motor insurer to bring contempt proceedings relating to a claim for injuries arising from a road traffic accident where the claimant had been found to have exaggerated his claim. While the case did not produce any ‘new’ law, the judgment by Slade J provided a useful recap of where such proceedings are appropriate and will be permitted.
In this case, R had brought a claim for personal injury arising out of a road accident. Aviva was the motor insurer for the other party and had made a full admission of liability. The matter proceeded to a trial because Aviva did not accept the claimant’s case as to the nature and extent of his injuries and their impact. At the trial, R discontinued his claim and the district judge hearing the matter made a finding that the claim had been fundamentally dishonest.
Subsequently, Aviva sought permission to bring proceedings against R for contempt of court. The main basis for that application was that R had signed a statement of truth on documents detailing his injuries and their effects, knowing that the contents of the documents were not true. R was alleged to have made comments in his witness statement and his response to a Part 18 request which were false and without an honest belief in their truth. These related both to the nature of the accident’s impact and the effect of his injuries and his losses.
R tried to defend the application on the basis that contempt proceedings were intended for ‘more serious’ dishonesty and not unreliable or inconsistent witnesses and that he had already paid the appropriate penalty for his actions by having a costs order made against him by the district judge.
Slade J took the view that contempt proceedings were not for minor incidences but that this case went beyond a ‘minor’ dishonesty. Here the claimant had exaggerated his injuries and losses in a claim for thousands of pounds. She held that ‘bringing a false claim in the courts is extremely serious. Apart from the dishonesty of bringing such a claim, false claims lead to waste of court time and resources. Although the claim brought by the respondent was small in financial terms and contempt proceedings will be costly, in the interests of justice and the overriding objective, I consider it proportionate for contempt proceedings to be pursued’. She allowed the application on that basis.
Philippa Luscombe, partner in the clinical negligence and personal injury team at Penningtons Manches LLP, comments: “Any case like this is interesting. On the one hand it draws attention to the unattractive side of injury litigation in the UK. There is no doubt that a small percentage of claimants wilfully exaggerate their claims and injuries, resulting in unmeritorious claims and in defendants of all types, whether insurers or NHS trusts, having to spend time and money dealing with them. However, Aviva’s decision to bring the case and the ruling are good news for genuine claimants. In our experience, the vast majority of claimants are honest and are only bringing an injury claim because they either need to recover their financial losses and fund treatment or care or because they feel very let down and want answers and action taken to prevent others suffering a similar outcome. Very few claimants seek to exaggerate their claims – many do the opposite and put a brave face on things, playing down the difficulties that they have.
“This case should deter dishonest claimants which can only be a good thing for those with genuine claims. Some defendants are now being proactive in seeking evidence of dishonesty, often by video surveillance and social media investigation, and if this reduces the level of fraud, then it has to be welcomed. It is a reminder to all claimants that any aspect of a claim that they seek to pursue must be supported by evidence. A statement of truth is exactly that and there are penalties for verifying statements of fact that the claimant knows to be untrue.”