Daniel Locke v (1) James Stuart (2) AXA Corporate Solutions Services Ltd [25.02.11]
High Court considers, for first time, how evidence from social networking sites can lawfully be used in insurance fraud cases. Daniel Locke bought a claim against James Stuart for personal injury arising from a road traffic accident in 2006. He was awarded £1,500 in damages in September 2008. Mr Stuart’s insurers, AXA, became a party to the proceedings in order to protect its interests, as it was concerned the claim was a conspiracy to defraud as part of a series of nine seemingly related claims, seven of which were insured by AXA.
The burden was on AXA to show that, on the balance of probabilities, Mr Locke had been dishonest. AXA relied on the fact that Mr Locke (and other witnesses) had been very vague about the details of the accident, and had given different details as to the cause of his injury to different medical practitioners. In addition, Mr Locke’s mother was a witness in this case but also a passenger in one of the other impugned cases. The Judge was not satisfied on the basis of these concerns alone, that there had been a fraud, so AXA was required to present evidence of systemic fraud, which included:
- The claims were all referred to solicitors by the same claims management company for £450 per case.
- The “guilty” vehicles had all been taken out on short term hire (in this case, hired by the first defendant on the day of the accident).
- All of the vehicles were full of people, a total of 106 for all claims, meaning there were nine “guilty drivers”, and 97 claimants worth a total of £40,500 in referral fees.
- There was a commonality of parties involved and AXA proved a number of the links by using Facebook.
- The geographical location of all nine claims.
The Judge made a finding of dishonesty against Daniel Locke on a number of grounds, finding for AXA and the first defendant - a somewhat perverse result, where the first defendant was found complicit in the fraud!
The Judge suggested that the large amount of documentation put forward in evidence (three files of Facebook print-outs) could have been summarised in a single document or Scott Schedule, and this could be used in any case involving this class of evidence.
As a final comment, the Judge noted that insurers who make these kinds of allegations must do so with care and ensure that there are proper grounds to assert fraud.
This case shows that the contents of social network sites can be a valuable tool when investigating fraud and that the judiciary are becoming alert to the significance of such evidence. Such evidence may not prove to be the “smoking gun” required to prove fraud but it can be compelling when taken with other suspicious circumstances.
To the extent that insurers are not carrying out these investigations already, they should now do so and can be confident of using this evidence in support of their case.