Court success: dishonest claimant ordered to pay costs

  • A local authority faced a personal injury claim from a woman who alleged she hurt her neck after tripping in a cemetery
  • Inconsistencies in the claimant’s statements led to her credibility – and even the occurrence of any accident – being called into question
  • The judge made a finding of fundamental dishonesty and ordered the claimant to pay the costs of the litigation

D Saunders v Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council

Background

The claimant alleged that she had sustained a neck injury following a trip in an Oldham cemetery. This was supported by several alleged witnesses. Her medical expert recorded that she had no other accidents or relevant injuries.

Legal arguments

The occurrence of any accident and the claimant’s credibility was called into question due to inconsistencies in the alleged accident date (including disparities within signed witness statements compared to the particulars of claim), and her failure to inform her medical expert of a road traffic accident (RTA), which occurred 7.5 months after the alleged cemetery accident and for which she was also pursuing a personal injury claim.

Similarly, when examined for the RTA claim, she had failed to mention the cemetery accident to the relevant medical expert. It was alleged that if an accident did occur resulting in injury, then the presentation to her medical expert was so dishonest as to be fundamental to the claim.

The inconsistencies were raised within the defence and the claimant discontinued before her directions questionnaire was filed, without any explanation. Although her solicitors initially sought to adduce their own statement as to her credibility, this was subsequently followed by an application to come off record in advance of the fundamental dishonesty application hearing.

Decision

The claimant attended the application in person. Despite maintaining in her evidence that an accident had occurred (albeit on a different date to that pleaded), she remained vague as to why she had signed several documents containing Statements of Truth despite knowing that the information was wrong.

Similarly, her failure to mention to either medical expert that she had been involved in another accident resulting in injury, could not be considered simply a ‘mix-up’.

The judge made a finding of fundamental dishonesty and the claimant lost the costs protection from which she would otherwise have benefited under the Qualified One-Way Costs Shifting rules.

Commentary

We are continuing to see the courts dealing robustly with the fundamental dishonesty cases being increasingly seen in the casualty field. It has been recently recognised by the courts that when considering proportionality in the assessment of an application following discontinuance, there is a public interest in identifying false claims and in claimants who pursue such claims being required to meet the costs of litigation (Alpha Insurance A/S v Roche & Anr 2018).

With this in mind, claimants need to be aware that if they attempt to discontinue at an early stage without explanation, they may find themselves unrepresented and facing an enforceable costs order.