The word “landmark” seems to be an over-used one when it comes to legal judgements.
That said, I was interested to read a press release from law firm Bond Dickinson last week following a "landmark" case involving bus company Go North East and a fraudulent personal injury claim.
The reason Bond Dickinson has boasted of the victory been such a "landmark" - even though this is a first instance decision - was that not only was the fraudulent personal injury claim struck out, but that the solicitors acting for the claimants should pay all of the defendant bus company's costs.
To quote the press release: "This is an unprecedented move from the court, highlighting the growing issues with personal injury solicitors."
Paul Hughes, legal director, added: "This case shows that courts can and will take a tough line on shoddy and unscrupulous personal injury solicitors. It is vital that organisations stand up to bogus claims and that individuals who may have been involved in accidents are not misled by solicitors suggesting financial reward.
"This case should be a warning to personal injury solicitors and individuals that fraudulent cases will be thrown out of court and that false claimants can successfully be pursued for the defendant's costs".
Although Bond Dickinson did not go as far to name and shame the personal injury lawyers, it does highlight an issue which has been driving a wedge between the defendant and claimant communities for a few months now.
In December Zurich, LV, Aviva and Covéa met with the Solicitors Regulation Authority to discuss how it can help clamp down on alleged unscrupulous business practices among certain elements of the law firms it regulates.
A meeting that led to claimant law firm Thompsons accusing insurers of "talking up a crisis" to suit their own agenda, with policy head Tom Jones adding: "The actual number of prosecutions for personal injury fraud is miniscule suggesting that the numbers reported are equally small.
"By lumping all personal injury law firms and all their genuinely injured clients in with those they apparently know to be dodgy they muddy the water."
With all this going on, it is timely that the Post Claims Club will feature an update from the SRA's director of intelligence and investigation Stephen Wilmott. Especially in light of the Fraud Taskforce's recommendation to review its fining abilities in order to tackle fraud more effective.
Whether such a measure would have prevented the above claimants being encouraged to claim against Go North East is debatable. But this move - coupled with the ruling in Gateshead - has certainly given those "dodgy" law firms something to think about.
The question is by their dodgy nature, would they be pre-disposed to these bad practices whatever the wider insurer, legal and regulatory bodies did? And how widespread the problem is in the first place?
Maybe it is something we can debate when we gather for the next Claims Club meeting. For more details and to sign up click here.
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