Motor Insurers Are Relentless in Exposing Dishonest Road Accident Claims

Road traffic accidents happen in the twinkling of an eye and it is not at all surprising that those involved often give differing accounts of what occurred. As a High Court ruling showed, however, motor insurers are relentless in their pursuit of those whom they suspect of trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

The case concerned a delivery rider who alleged that his motorcycle was stationary when a car struck it from behind. In seeking compensation, he asserted, amongst other things, that the motorcycle was rendered undriveable and that he had to hire a replacement vehicle. Together with relatively modest sums in respect of personal injuries, lost earnings and expenses, he claimed reimbursement of over £74,000 in vehicle hire charges from the car driver's insurers.

The insurers later obtained CCTV footage which, they contended, undermined his account of the accident. It was common ground that the footage supported the car driver's case that the motorcycle was not stationary and that it clipped the car's offside whilst weaving through traffic.

Documents were also presented by the insurers which they said demonstrated that the motorcycle was not damaged to the extent that it was unroadworthy and that the rider was able to, and did, continue to use it following the collision. The documents were said to be wholly inconsistent with his assertion that he needed to hire a replacement vehicle.

Following disclosure of that evidence, the rider's solicitors gave notice to discontinue his claim. The insurers, however, did not leave the matter there: taking the view that his claim was fundamentally dishonest and that he had made sworn statements which he knew to be false, they applied for permission to seek his committal to prison for contempt of court.

Ruling on the matter, the Court found that the insurers had come nowhere near to establishing, to the criminal standard of proof, an arguable case of contempt in respect of the personal injury elements of his claim. Those elements were extremely modest when compared to his hire charges claim.

However, the Court went on to find that the insurers had, on the face of it, shown a strong case that he knew his account of the accident was untrue and that he knowingly advanced a false claim in respect of vehicle hire, storage and recovery charges. It was in the public interest for those aspects of the committal application to proceed to a full hearing. If ultimately found in contempt, the rider would be exposed to a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both.

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