Harsh Legal Sanctions to eliminate Exaggerated and Fraudulent Claims mean the Genuine and Deserving Claims Rise to the Top
Exaggerated or fraudulent claims by Plaintiffs are abhorrent. They are dishonest and they are illegal. They do not benefit the legal system the public who pay expensive insurance premiums. Thankfully they are in the minority.
Solicitors take detailed instructions from clients, carry out detailed investigations and are obliged to set out their claim with a great degree of particularity. Detailed reports, medical records and receipts are provided to support the claim. In addition, a Plaintiff has an obligation to swear an Affidavit confirming that the various details of the claim are true. The vast majority of personal injuries cases are true and based on genuine tales of suffering and hardship following a negligent event.
There are sanctions provided in law regarding fraudulent or exaggerated claims and these operate effectively. Section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 provides that if a Plaintiff gives or allows to be given on their behalf evidence that is false or misleading in any way, the claim will be dismissed.
However a small minority of fraudulent cases can and do slip through the net. These minority cases of course make the newspapers. An exaggerated claim of someone who claims they are unable to work or walk yet video evidence shows them out jogging is sadly more newsworthy than yet another report of a genuine and heart-wrenching case of (avoidable) damage caused during the birth of a child.
The recent Court of Appeal judgment of Platt v OBH Luxury Accommodation Limited & Anor [2017 IECA 221] concerned an exaggerated claim and the Plaintiff was found to have lied. This case was a success story for the operation of the law. Mr Platt suffered life threatening injuries to his spine, ribs and hip when he fell from a windowsill of a hotel. When his case was heard in the High Court he was found to have intentionally misled the court and exaggerated his injuries. Whilst undoubtedly he suffered genuine injuries he lied and exaggerated the level of his pain and the degree of his incapacitation. He maintained that he was required to use a wheelchair or crutches. However when video evidence was shown of him driving, shopping and walking unaided, the High Court dismissed his claim. This dismissal was upheld in the Court of Appeal, who relied on Section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 to dismiss the entire claim. The Court of Appeal stated that the 2004 Act was designed to ensure that false or misleading assertions, allegations or information would “not lightly be tolerated”. The Court went on to say that the law provided for draconian consequences in that any claim found to be fraudulent or exaggerated must be dismissed in full (except for certain limited instances where dismissal would cause an injustice). The Act also makes it a criminal offence for a litigant to give false or misleading evidence or to give false or misleading instructions to their solicitor or to any expert. Such an offence is, under s. 25 of the Act, punishable by significant penalties. A fine of up to €100,000 or a prison term not exceeding ten years or both may be imposed.
This judgment is a reminder that the law is clear and necessarily harsh. If a Plaintiff is found to have exaggerated his claim the claim will be dismissed and he or she will have committed a criminal offence with significant penalties.
The judgment also illustrates that we have the necessary penalties and sanctions in place to deal with the very small minority of liars who exaggerate their claim. In addition the media and their reporting of such claims act as an added deterrent and penalty.
The dismissal of Mr Platt’s case was a success story; a liar was found out and the law applied correctly to dismiss his claim. The Irish legal system has the mechanisms and legislation in place to expose the liars, apply the law and dismiss those claims. The money saved by the insurers and defendants can now be put to proper use or when necessary used to compensate the many, many genuine victims of personal injury.
The claims that come to justice have been supported by detailed medical records, expert reports, extensive evidence and cross examination. The claims have also been sieved through with a fine tooth comb by the Defendants. With draconian systems in place, the public can be confident that the claims that do succeed are genuine and deserving of compensation due to the wrongs done.
* In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage of any award or settlement.