Court success: School bus collision found to be fabricated
The claimant alleged that while sitting in his parked vehicle one morning, it was struck by a passing school bus, causing vehicle damage and personal injury.
The bus was used daily to transport children to a nearby primary school and formed part of Cheshire West & Chester Council’s motor fleet.
The claimant posted on social media about the alleged incident and attended the school shortly afterwards to raise a complaint, meeting with the head teacher.
It was accepted that the bus had travelled past the location of the alleged collision on the day in question, but suspicions were soon raised after inconsistencies began to emerge in the claimant’s story.
The bus driver was unavailable to give evidence. However, an employee of the school, who had been travelling in the front passenger seat of the bus at the time, said they had no recollection of any collision.
The claimant alleged that he had chased after the bus. However, despite the bus stopping to collect a child shortly after it had passed the location of the alleged incident, no-one on the bus was approached.
Zurich insured the council’s fleet and instructed engineers to assess whether the bus and the claimant’s vehicle had sustained damage that would have been consistent with the alleged facts.
The claimant’s vehicle was said to be unavailable for independent inspection, but Zurich was provided with the claimant’s own engineering report.
On inspecting the bus, no visible damage was found that was commensurate with the alleged collision.
This prompted a multifaceted investigation into the alleged facts. Upon gathering wider evidence and intelligence, the council was able to positively plead fundamental dishonesty on the part of the claimant and maintain its denial of liability.
Weightmans LLP was instructed by Zurich on behalf of the council once the claimant had issued proceedings in the County Court.
Notwithstanding the unavailability of the bus driver to give evidence, a robust defence was put forward, covering the following key aspects:
1. An employee sitting in the front passenger seat of the bus did not recall any collision.
2. Despite the employee exiting the bus a short distance away from the incident location, they were not approached.
3. The head teacher provided a straightforward account of a meeting with the claimant and, importantly, said they were not made aware of any alleged personal injury claim. They also denied making any admission of liability, contrary to the claimant’s account, which had also included an allegation that the head teacher had offered to pay for the vehicle damage.
4. The claimant’s vehicle was said not to be available for inspection when he visited the school, despite another member of staff seeing an identical vehicle near the school at that time. No damage to the vehicle was observed at that stage.
5. The claimant instructed solicitors just three days after the alleged accident, despite not having attended his GP for medical assistance.
6. The claimant stated that he could not participate in his hobby of fishing due to his injuries. However, a review of his social media accounts showed that the claimant was actively fishing during the time he was supposedly injured.
7. During visits to his GP following the incident, the claimant failed to mention his alleged injuries, until he was involved in a subsequent accident.
At trial, the court accepted the evidence of the school’s witnesses, even in the absence of evidence from the bus driver.
In respect of the claimant, the court found that he had consistently lied and was not a credible or honest witness in respect of his:
• Account of the alleged incident
• Interactions with the council’s employees
• Losses sustained
Instead, the claimant was found to have fabricated the accident and brought a fundamentally dishonest claim.
This claim is an excellent example of Zurich’s proactive approach to its customers’ claims, including, in this instance:
• Engaging with witnesses at an early stage
• Obtaining robust expert evidence
• Conducting a full intelligence review
• Gaining specific court directions to secure disclosure of key documents within the claimant’s control
The actions of the court also reinforce Zurich’s strategic decision to bring the claimant to trial to justify the allegations, in light of the conflicting evidence and intelligence collected.
This case also demonstrates the courts’ eagerness to uphold the principles of honesty, combat fraud, and to carefully consider the evidence put before them, irrespective of claim value.