Judge finds fundamental dishonesty after woman exaggerates injury

North East Lincolnshire Council has successfully secured a finding of fundamental dishonesty against a woman, who attempted to claim more than £100,000, by exaggerating her injuries.

Rachel Marie Brown, of Salamander Close, Grimsby presented a personal injury claim following an alleged accident on the highway, claiming to have a permanent reduction of function in her right arm.

The 50-year-old claimed to require help from family members with basic household tasks, shopping and gardening and said she was unable to lift her grandchildren or lead a normal active life.

However, inconsistencies emerged and intelligence enquiries showed her participating in an ice bucket challenge video without any apparent difficulty.

A period of surveillance followed, which included footage of Brown travelling to and from an appointment with her own medical expert.

On the same day that she informed the orthopaedic expert she was unable to move her right shoulder or elbow, footage showed Brown with full use of her right arm, lifting a pushchair onto a train, carrying her grandchild and using her arm in a normal way.

Following an application by the council to amend its defence to plead fundamental dishonesty, Brown immediately discontinued her claim.

The council pursued the case and District Judge Thomson made a finding of fundamental dishonesty at Hull County Court on Thursday 29 November.

In making the finding of fundamental dishonesty, Brown was ordered to pay the council legal costs, which will be assessed at a later date.

North East Lincolnshire Council was represented by national law firm Weightmans LLP in conjunction with their insurers, Zurich Municipal.

Councillor Dave Watson, portfolio holder for finance, said: “Dishonestly claiming thousands of pounds from a council is an offence and if the evidence proves that you have done that, you will face the consequences.

“We, like all local authorities, are required to protect public funds and this sends out the message that we will challenge any claims that we feel are fraudulent.”

Suzanne Milne, casualty fraud partner at Weightmans, said: “This case demonstrates the commitment of local authorities and their insurers to protect public funds by robustly investigating and defending suspected fraudulent claims.

“It also highlights the increasing willingness of the courts to make findings of fundamental dishonesty, even where breach of duty has been admitted and the claimant may have suffered a genuine injury.

“We hope this outcome sends a message – dishonest claims for compensation are not victimless crimes, they are incredibly costly to the wider community and will be treated accordingly.”

Scott Clayton, head of claims fraud at Zurich, added: “This was a straightforward attempt of mindless extortion of the public money.

“The claimant did suffer some injuries as a result of the accident but the extent of exaggeration of the damage was such that our customer, the council, had to pursue the fundamental dishonesty charge to demonstrate the zero tolerance to fraud approach.

“Councils are really struggling to deliver vital services to their communities due to ever-decreasing public sector funding, so anyone trying to defraud them should be brought to justice.”