Guilty: The risks involved in bringing a fraudulent personal injury claim

The number of people claiming compensation following an accident that wasn’t their fault has increased in recent years.  The insurance blames part of the rise on fraudulent or exaggerated injury claims.

The insurers claim that fraudulent claims add around £40 to the cost of the average policy.   Quite why an insurer would pay out on a claim being fraudulently made is not explained and the figure quoted should not be taken as fact. 

Moreover, as injury lawyers we often see insurers make unsubstantiated allegations of fraud against claimants for little or no reason.   

That is not to say that fraud, or attempted fraud, does not occur.  In August 2011, two brothers from Manchester were found guilty or running a ‘crash for cash’ scam which saw them staging accidents in order to collect compensation from insurance companies.   The pair are expected to receive lengthy jail sentences for their crimes which not only defrauded the insurance companies concerned but has made  genuine claimants, those injured through no fault of their own, and the lawyers that assist them attract negative attention from the press.

It is not just organised crime that has been involved in claims for injuries that were deliberately caused or exaggerated.  The Guardian reported on the case of Martin Cottrell, a former police officer who sued the NHS following what he claimed was a botched operation which left him barely able to work.

Sometime after the compensation was awarded it was found that while Mr Cottrell had been left in some pain by the operation, his claim for loss of earnings was “wholly bogus”. The judge ruled he had colluded with his family to over-estimate the extent of the problem and thereby gain more money from the NHS.

Research conducted by insurance firm LV= found solicitors believe there is an increasing number of persons falsely making personal injury claims. Generally, personal injuries can be split into two categories; those where the extent of the injury has been exaggerated and those where the incident has been entirely manufactured.

Some 57 per cent of the solicitors surveyed believe there has been a rise in the number of injuries which have been exaggerated in the past ten years. As many of four in ten believe the problem has escalated since the recession began and six in ten will scrutinise a client’s case very closely before deciding whether to take in on our not.

Of those claimants who bring dishonest cases, whiplash was the most commonly over exaggerated injury, while around half of cases relate to a car accident. Post-traumatic stress was said to be the most commonly made up injury, followed by muscle strain.

Much like Lord Young found in his report into the subject recently, many of the lawyers believed a rise in the number of no win, no fee personal injury lawyers coupled with increasing levels of TV advertising for such services had been part of the reason behind this increase. 

In short, people are more aware of their right to claim compensation following an injury than they had previously been.  Despite the insurer’s paranoia, the idea that they are besieged by fraudulent or exaggerated cases is far-fetched.   The fact is that people are much more aware of their ability to seek compensation for injury.

For those who are involved in bringing fraudulent personal injury claims, the penalties can be severe and the authorities and solicitors are making efforts to clamp down.  Claimant solicitors have no interest in pushing fraudulent or exaggerated claims.  Most operate on a ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis, therefore if the claim fails – which it will do if it is fraudulently made – then the solicitors will not be paid for their time and expense of pursuing the claim.  In addition, injury lawyers are very much aware of the damage being caused to legitimate claimants from news stories that portray the personal injury cases in a negative light.

High profile cases, such as that of Joanne Kirk, could also service dissuade those making a claim from making fraudulent personal injury claims.

Ms Kirk was involved in an incident in September 2001 when her car was shunted from behind at a roundabout by Carol Walton. Following the incident Ms Kirk claimed she had developed a disease called Fibromyalgia, which had practically left her crippled.

She claimed £25,000, although originally looked for £750,000, in compensation, as well as benefits and a disabled parking badge, after saying she could walk little more than ten paces without assistance.

However, Ms Walton’s insurance company doubted the validity of the claim and managed to obtain video footage of Ms Kirk shopping and walking, things she had claimed she was unable to do. As a result, Ms Kirk dropped her compensation claim but Ms Walton brought a private case from contempt of court, which the High Court in Liverpool upheld in 2009.

After the court ruled she had lied about the extent of her injuries, Ms Kirk was ordered to pay her £125,000 of legal costs, a £2,500 fine and half of Ms Walton’s legal costs.

Mr Justice Coulson said: “Mrs Kirk generally exaggerated her symptoms to a significant and unconscionable degree.”

The case sent a clear message to those who were considering a similar move; those bringing fraudulent personal injury claims will be punished.

The information provided herein is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended and should not be construed to constitute legal advice.  If you require specialist advice on whether you can claim compensation for injury please contact our Freephone legal helpline on 0800 1077 321 or by completing the on-line claim form

 

Guilty: The risks involved in bringing a fraudulent personal injury claim

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