There has been a flurry of recent court decisions where judges have struck out personal injury claims on the basis of fundamental dishonesty in accordance with Section 57 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, which provides the court with the power to strike out the entirety of a claimant’s claim for fundamental dishonesty for cases issued post 13 April 2015.
At the beginning of this year, the High Court ruled in the case of London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games -v- Sinfield  that a claimant who had manufactured false invoices to support his special damages’ claim for gardening expenses was fundamentally dishonest. The High Court determined that a claimant would be fundamentally dishonest under Section 57 if he has ‘substantially affected’ the presentation of his case which had a significant adverse effect on the defendant. Based on the fact that the claimant had knowingly made misrepresentations in his schedule of loss regarding the gardening claim, the High Court ruled that the claimant had substantially affected the presentation of his case and was fundamentally dishonest. This was swiftly followed by the case of Razumas -v- Ministry of Justice in February 2018, which was a clinical negligence decision where the Court held that the Claimant was fundamentally dishonest in lying about seeking medical attention whilst on release on licence from prison. The Claimant had not in fact sought medical attention and had sought to base one of his allegations of negligence against the Ministry of Justice on the fact that he had sought treatment outside prison. The Court held that the Claimant’s dishonesty went to the root of the claim. Such decisions provided much-needed assurance to defendants and their insurers that the courts were willing to take a hard-line approach to fraudulent claimants and strike out claims in their entirety where dishonesty was substantial and affected the root of the claim.
However, last week the High Court refused an appeal to overturn a personal injury ruling on the grounds of fundamental dishonesty. In the case of Wright -v- Satellite Information Services Ltd , the claimant had suffered an accident at work resulting in injuries to his right lower limb. Liability was admitted by the defendant. The claimant served a schedule of loss, which included a significant future care claim in excess of £73,000. Surveillance evidence was produced by the defendant showing the claimant to be far less disabled than he had claimed. Despite the County Court trial judge recognising that there been inconsistencies in the claimant’s evidence regarding the extent of his disability and pain, and despite the judge reducing the claimant’s future care claim to £2,100 in light of these inconsistencies, the trial judge did not find the claimant’s claim to be fundamentally dishonest.
The defendant appealed to the High Court, who, in a surprise ruling last week, dismissed the appeal. The High Court held that the claimant had been broadly consistent with his witness evidence in relation to his ongoing care needs and whilst the claimant, at times, had given a misleading impression by focusing on his symptoms when they were at their worst, he had not deliberately attempted to overstate the value of his case. The future care claim had been prepared by the claimant’s solicitors and was largely based on a care expert report, which the High Court found to be unsupported by the evidence. Nevertheless, it was verified by a statement of truth signed by the claimant.
Despite the fact that the High Court accepted that the claimant had provided misleading information in relation to his care claim, they held that it was not enough to amount to fundamental dishonesty. At a first glance, it is hard to reconcile this decision with Sinfield where the claimant in that case provided misleading information in relation to his gardening claim, and had his entire claim struck out. The difference in approach seems to be that in Sinfield, the claimant deliberately faked invoices, which amounted to a case of blatant dishonesty. In Wright the claimant merely exaggerated the extent of his disability and relied upon an unsubstantiated care report.
This case acts as a stark reminder to defendants that what constitutes fundamental dishonesty will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and is still open to considerable judicial interpretation. It awaits to be seen whether the defendant’s representatives will appeal this decision.