Court success: dishonest claimant ordered to pay defendant’s costs

  • The claimant alleged he suffered multiple injuries when he fell after his foot got stuck in hole in a road
  • However, during the subsequent trial, numerous inconsistencies emerged in his account
  • The claimant was found to have been fundamentally dishonest and ordered to pay the defendant’s costs

X v Preston City Council

Background

A claimant whose case for personal injury included multiple descriptions of the accident circumstances and numerous inconsistencies was found to be fundamentally dishonest at the conclusion of his trial.

The law

The claim was brought pursuant to section 41 of the Highways Act. The defendant admitted breach of duty subject to both factual and medical causation.

Legal arguments

The claimant alleged that on 28 November 2015, at approximately 4.30pm, he was walking along a residential road when his right foot got stuck in a hole where a street sign used to stand, causing him to fall to the ground. The claimant sustained injuries to his nose, cheekbones, ribs and right ankle.

The day after the accident, the claimant attended A&E and the triage nurse recorded the following in the claimant’s notes: ‘Patient states tripped over kerb and landed face down last night – had alcohol on board’.

According to the medical records, he suffered facial injuries only. However, during the trial, the claimant sought to argue that the triage nurse had got it ‘completely wrong’. He also contended that he had not been drinking.

The injuries the claimant sustained were inconsistent with a tripping injury. The claimant alleged that he had been walking with both hands in his pockets and had fallen flat on his face. It was put to the claimant that surely he could have managed to get one hand out to break his fall or attempted to roll to one side to avoid hitting his face on the ground.

The claimant also suggested his entire ankle went into the hole, but when shown photographs of the defect, he was forced to concede it would not have fitted.

The claimant informed the medical expert that when he attended A&E, he was x-rayed and told he had suffered broken ribs. However, there were no references to this in his medical records. In fact, it was clearly recorded that he sustained no injuries other than the facial injury.

Decision

The judge said there were numerous inconsistencies in the claimant’s evidence, which he described as “wholly incredible”. Not only had the claimant failed to prove his case but on the balance of probabilities, the judge found he had been fundamentally dishonest. Qualified one-way costs shifting was therefore overturned and the claimant was ordered to pay the defendant’s costs.

Commentary

The claimant’s case was scrutinised in detail so that every inconsistency was highlighted. Detailed questions were also put to the medical expert to challenge and undermine the claimant’s medical evidence. In addition, investigations revealed indicators as to the claimant’s character, which strongly suggested he would not present as a good witness at trial.

The judge shared the defendants disbelief at the claimant’s evidence and found he had repeatedly tailored his evidence. Following cross examination, the judge was receptive to the defendant proceeding to cross examine the claimant specifically in relation to the issue of fundamental dishonesty.

It is hoped that cases such as this will act as a deterrent and send out a clear message to those who have brought spurious
claims against local authorities or who are considering bringing such claims.

This claim was handled by Nicola Brown in our Newcastle Casualty Claims Team, supported by Chris Booth, Partner at Forbes Solicitors.