The Court of Appeal has issued a stern warning that dishonest claimants - and their lawyers - will not escape the consequences of unscrupulous conduct simply by dropping the cases when they begin to unravel.
The warning is contained in Zurich Insurance Plc v Romaine, in which Lord Justice Haddon-Cave overturned the High Court’s decision not to proceed immediately with contempt proceedings against 69-year-old David Romaine. The latter had claimed for noise-induced hearing loss against his former employer but gave false submissions about not playing electric guitar in a rock band.
Romaine insisted he had been cold-called by claims farmers and believed he was a victim of a scheme to make money from his hearing loss. He told the court his solicitors, the now-defunct Asons, told him it would lodge a claim of between £1,000 and £5,000 and would do paperwork which he understood would be ‘generic’. He submitted that ’at no stage’ did he sign a statement of truth or see the Part 18 responses which contained an electronic signature which had been applied by Asons.
In his judgment granting permission to bring committal proceedings, Haddon-Cave LJ made no assertion on those submissions but said claimants who discontinue cases when the ‘the game is up’ should face consequences.
‘The stratagem of early discontinuance should not be seen to be used by unscrupulous claimants or lawyers as an inviolable means of protecting themselves from the consequences of their dishonest conduct,’ said the judge. ‘It is clear that the modus operandi of some of those involved in fraudulent insurance claims has been to issue tranches of deliberately low-value claims (sometimes on an industrial scale) for e.g. whiplash, slips and trips etc and when confronted with resistance or evidence of falsity, simply then to drop those particular claims, in anticipation that it would probably not be worth the candle for insurers to pursue the matter further.’
Romaine, now acting as a litigant in person, had claimed for £5,000 damages from his former employer for noise-induced hearing loss. The accompanying medical report stated he did not have any noisy hobbies. But when the defendants obtained Romaine’s medical records it was found he was a professional singer and motorcyclist – both activities relevant to issues of causation and loss. When questioned, Romaine replied that he did not sing professionally and did not perform with a live band, instead occasionally practising his acoustic guitar.
It was not until searches were made on Romaine’s Facebook page that he was found to have played electric guitar and been lead singer in a rock-and-roll band, playing regularly at pubs, clubs and larger events.
In March 2017, the defendants made an application to strike out the claim as a result of dishonesty. Bolton firm Asons closed the same month. Committal proceedings were served in September 2017, which were opposed by Romaine. Almost a year later, Mr Justice Goose dismissed an application for permission to commence contempt proceedings on paper without a hearing, saying it was not a sufficiently strong case ‘bearing in mind the need for great caution’.