On 11 July 2015 a minor road traffic accident occurred on a roundabout between a van driven by the first defendant and a coach driven by the second defendant. The second defendant’s coach that day carried 25 passengers on a stag do. After the drivers had stopped and exchanged details the stag party continued on to the Chester Races and then afterwards to a nightclub in Wigan. Within a few weeks of the accident 20 of the 25 passengers claimed they had suffered whiplash type injuries and claimed damages for injury. Of the 20 claims, 19 were presented through the same set of solicitors.
The Defendants called the Claimants’ bluff. At a 6-day trial in Liverpool County Court all Claimants were subjected to cross-examination alleging that the collision was so minor it could not have caused personal injury. In addition the Defendants’ case was that the claims were brought as part of a conspiracy concocted on the stag do in an attempt to defraud the Defendants’ insurers. The potential finding of fraud against the Claimants and possible subsequent criminal prosecution meant there was much at stake for all concerned. This, to borrow a gambling analogy, was high stakes poker.
HHJ Gregory found the evidence of the Claimants ranged from ‘evasive’ to ‘hopelessly unconvincing.’ However the Defendants’ attempts to elicit evidence of a conspiracy proved largely unsuccessful. There was consequently no ‘smoking gun’ conclusively proving dishonesty such as the surveillance evidence in the case of Gosling v Hailo (Cambridge CC, HHJ Maloney QC, 29 April 2014) or fabricated invoices as in the case London Organising Committee v Sinfield  EWHC 51 (QB). Could the Court therefore find that the claims were brought as part of a conspiracy and were therefore fundamentally dishonest?
Despite the lack of a clear ‘ringleader’ HHJ Gregory was satisfied that the Claimants were complicit in presenting and pursuing claims which were dishonest in inception (paragraph 100 of his Judgment). The case is to my knowledge the first of its kind involving a finding of fundamental dishonesty against so many passengers.
The Judgment will undoubtedly be of some comfort to insurers faced with similar large-scale passenger claims. It may also deter potential claimants from gambling on a fraudulent claim. With hindsight the Claimants in this case may wish they had stuck to having a flutter on the horses instead.
Vaughan Jacob appeared for the successful second defendant and was instructed by Edward Weaver of Ellisons Solicitors. A copy of the Judgment can be viewed here.
A longer article concerning this decision is available here.