When is a dishonest claim not a dishonest claimant?

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Published: 22nd October 2021
Area: Arbitration and Collaborative

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Dishonest claimant, or dishonest claim?

The High Court recently dismissed an appeal against a county court ruling, concerning the issue of “fundamental dishonesty”. The case involved a low-level RTA where liability had been admitted, but the defendant alleged that the claims for credit hire, injury and other associated losses by the claimant were fundamentally dishonest.  

The Honourable Mrs Justice Stacey upheld the Recorder’s County Court decision that, while a claim had apparently exaggerated the losses, the claimant himself had been ‘perplexed’ by the damages being sought and was not complicit in the dishonesty. 

The case of Michael v I E & D Hurford Ltd (t/a Rainbow) is interesting and explores in detail the appeal for the claimant being “fundamentally dishonest.” 

The situation

The claimant, Luul Michael, was involved in an RTA while working as an Uber driver, in the process of taking a passenger to their destinationAn employee working for the defendant was driving a Land Rover Defender, provided by the company, which was travelling very close behind the claimant. The driver of the Land Rover Defender then accidentally drove into the back of the claimant's vehicle as it was moving off from traffic lights.  

The initial valuing of the claim

The County Court judgment was handed down in 2020, at Leeds County Court. The judge awarded the sum of £3,624.18 to Luul Michael. The defendant appealed this, arguing that the Judge should have found that the claimant was fundamentally dishonest for the claims for physiotherapy and credit hire. 

The High Court stated that the recorder had concluded that the claim had been put together by solicitors, and the claimant (who did not speak English as a first language), was not entirely familiar with parts of his witness statement. The recorder also stated that the claimant was “confused by the procedure adopted by this court”, while accepting that the claimant gave unhelpful information including that “he had attended only one physiotherapy session rather than the eight claimed for.”  

The appeal and ruling

Appealing to the Queen’s Bench Division, the defendant argued that “the recorder had been wrong not to decide fundamental dishonesty.”  

Mrs Justice Stacey said, regarding the appeal: “It is too bold a submission to assert that an inaccurate pleading or defective disclosure statement is synonymous with the respondent’s fundamental dishonesty…and if the defendant solicitors consider that potential dishonesty lies with a claimant’s solicitor and not their client then surely their attention is better directed at the solicitor firms, rather than the hapless client who has instructed them.” 

Mrs Justice Stacey dismissed the appeal, commenting that it was a “classic” example of when it is best to trust the trial judge, who has had the benefit of listening to the witness first-hand and reaching their own conclusion.    

The High Court stated that the recorder had concluded that the claim had been put together by solicitors, and the claimant (who did not speak English as a first language), was not entirely familiar with parts of his witness statement. The recorder also stated that the claimant was “confused by the procedure adopted by this court”, while accepting that the claimant gave unhelpful information including that “he had attended only one physiotherapy session rather than the eight claimed for.”  

What was the outcome?

The recorder at first instance concluded that the claimant was not dishonest. In fact, he ruled that he had been involved in a genuine accident and had not intentionally sought to exaggerate his injuries. 

This being said, it is important to note here the difficulties that can arise from investigating the credibility of claimants. In this instance, the perplexed nature of the claimant and willingness to give unhelpful information despite the signed list of documents (physiotherapy invoices and others) seemingly disproved the argument of dishonesty. But in other cases, could allegations of dishonesty made by defendants give rise to scrutinising claimants’ legal representatives on a deeper level? 

This case demonstrates that while the solicitors may have been “dishonest” in putting the claim together, it is not necessarily the claimant that is driving the fundamental dishonesty.  

However, what recourse is there for defendants in claims of this nature? Bringing the dishonest solicitors in as an interested party to the action? Reporting the dishonest solicitors to the SRA?  

If you wish to discuss a matter concerning a defendant claim please contact Rav Johal.  

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Ravinder works with both insurers and self-insured companies, defending a range of claims and providing sound legal advice.

Ravinder has over 13 years’ experience of dealing with claims from straight forward RTA’s to multi-million pound fire damage and brain injury claims. Ravinder’s down to earth approach for clients is precise, friendly and commercial.

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