Bolton-based Asons Solicitors, the personal injury firm at the centre of a row over a £300,000 local authority grant, has agreed to pay insurance giant AXA £113,000 to settle a dispute over costs, it emerged today.
According to AXA, Asons has admitted that it ‘falsely and systematically’ exaggerated its claim for costs in 65 PI cases and has agreed to pay the insurer £70,000 plus interest and around £40,000 in legal costs.
The dispute with AXA came to light in July 2015 following a case in Manchester County Court, in which Asons charged for fee-earner with more than six years of litigation experience when the solicitor in question had only two. Asons said this was an administrative error.
AXA said it was then prompted to review around 65 other cost claims in personal injury cases involving Asons. In the cases, settled between September 2013 and December 2014, Asons allegedly ‘overstated the qualifications and experience of its legal staff to inflate bills sent to AXA'.
The firm, which denies acting fraudulently, has also agreed to pay around £40,000 in legal costs, AXA said.
A spokesperson for Asons said in a statement: 'We take matters like this very seriously. Following a complaint by AXA, an internal investigation was immediately undertaken. We reported the matter to our regulator and any overpayments were returned. New procedures were instigated and we are satisfied that there has been no recurrence of the historical issues raised by AXA.'
The announcement of the settlement is likely to be used by insurers in their campaign for more curbs on the claimant sector. Gian Luigi Di Franco, claims manager at AXA, said: 'This is just the kind of behaviour that the insurance industry has been highlighting for years now, behaviour that is fuelling a compensation culture across the country.'
He alleged: 'This was a systematic attempt to secure funds that Asons ought to have known they were not entitled to. We hope and expect that this victory sends a strong message to those in the claimant lawyer fraternity who would undermine the reputation of and trust in their profession purely in the pursuit of money.’
Asons has been in the news extensively over the past few months after it was handed a £300,000 grant by Bolton Council last year. The money was made under the council’s emergency powers procedure for Asons to refurbish new offices in Bolton’s Churchgate area.
However, the Gazette subsequently revealed that the firm was also locked in dispute with the taxman over a demand for £300,000. The dispute was disclosed in the notes to Asons’ 2015 accounts, which also showed that the firm lost more than £1m in the year to May 2015.
There is no evidence linking the grant with the £300,000 dispute.
An SRA spokesperson said: 'We are aware of the situation and are gathering all relevant information before deciding on appropriate action.'