Court Success: A welcome result for a Housing association

  • Zurich Municipal welcomes the court success of Advance Housing & Support Limited v Thomson Northampton District Registry
  • The claimant was found to be in contempt of court due to seriously exaggerating the severity of her injuries
  • It is recognised that making an exaggerated claim is a serious contempt of court and is not a victimless crime

The original substantive claim for damages arising out of a tripping accident at care home premises was initially struck out for abuse of process. A two day contested committal hearing followed and the defendant in the committal proceedings, Miss Thomson, was found to be in contempt of court due to seriously exaggerating the severity of her injuries. She was sentenced to 28 days imprisonment with immediate effect.

The Facts
Miss Thomson sustained minor injuries in an accident in July 2010, which occurred while she was working for Advance Housing & Support Limited, as a support worker. Breach of duty was admitted. She brought a multi track claim for damages and instructed medical experts in support. It was following disclosure of surveillance evidence which undermined her case that her own orthopaedic expert concurred with the view of the defendant’s orthopaedic expert that Miss Thomson had deliberately set out to mislead them in respect of the extent of her symptoms. An application was made to strike the claim out for abuse of process. Her solicitors had withdrawn their representation at the stage the surveillance evidence was served. She failed to attend the strike out hearing and based on all supporting evidence her substantive claim was struck out.

Given the medical opinion supporting gross exaggeration, committal proceedings against Miss Thomson were pursued which culminated in a contested hearing on 18-20 April 2017. Despite protestation, HHJ Hampton found that Miss Thomson had deliberately and knowingly exaggerated her symptoms when she was examined by the medical experts in order to try to mislead them, with the dishonest intention of increasing the value of her claim. She was also found to be an unreliable witness and numerous inconsistencies between her witness statements, the accounts provided to the medical experts and her live witness evidence were identified.

HHJ Hampton found that an accident did take place which reflected the breach of duty admission. Some minor injuries resulted, but these bore no relation to the subsequent presentations of pain and limitation of function. Miss Thomson was therefore found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to 28 days imprisonment with immediate effect.

The Judgement
What was perhaps most significant about the decision to make a finding of contempt and impose a prison sentence was that the court accepted that the accident had occurred as Miss Thomson claimed and she did sustain some injuries, albeit only minor, as a result. The scenario was a far cry from an accident that was fully staged, with the sole intention being a fraudulent claim for damages.

HHJ Hampton recognised that making an exaggerated claim is a serious contempt of court and is not a victimless crime. Instead it creates a burden on insurers which means that honest claims have to be scrutinised more closely with costs passed on to other insurance users. She delivered a strong message to those who make vastly inflated false damages claims and lie, undermining the whole system. This was said to attack the fairness of the adversarial system which relies on the honesty of those involved.

This decision should send a stark warning: exaggeration of symptoms and the severity of an injury with the intention of increasing the value of a claim are sufficient to enable the court to strike out a claim as an abuse of process and subsequently make a finding of contempt, with the corresponding sanction of a prison term. The message is clear and unequivocal and should serve as a timely warning to any claimants who may think that by attempting to claim that they have been more seriously injured than they really have, they can make an ‘easy buck’.

This claim was handled by William Simms in our Farnborough Casualty Team. Our panel solicitors Weightmans represented us at Court.