Judge says solicitors must be more 'selective' as €300,000 in injury claims are dismissed
Law firm says it stopped acting for claimants after being told of fraud fears
A judge has said some solicitors should be more selective about who they accept as clients as she dismissed five fraudulent personal injury claims for up to €300,000.
Judge Jacqueline Linnane said such cases would not proceed to court unless solicitors agreed to act in them and that she felt the Law Society might be concerned about the matter.
"Perhaps some solicitors should be a bit more selective about who they take on," she said during a sitting of Dublin Circuit Civil Court.
The judge's comments came as she threw out claims by five London-based members of the Travelling community, who alleged they were involved in a car accident while on a sightseeing trip to Dublin.
They each sought up to €60,000 for whiplash injuries they claimed to have suffered in a collision near Sutton Road, Howth, in May 2015.
But Judge Linnane said it was clear from affidavits filed by solicitor David Culleton of DAC Beachcroft, representing RSA Insurance Ireland, that the accident was part of a sustained pattern of organised insurance fraud. An application from RSA to dismiss the actions was unopposed.
Judge Linnane directed that all evidence gathered by the insurance firm be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions. She also suggested RSA should consider contacting the Law Society.
"Maybe fuller inquiries should be made by solicitors before they take on these cases," she said.
No solicitor was present in court from P. Tiernan and Co, the law firm on record for the five plaintiffs.
In a statement, the Dundalk-based firm distanced itself from the matter, saying it "does not act in cases involving claims of a fraudulent nature".
P. Tiernan and Co said it advised the claimants it would no longer act for them after receiving a letter from DAC Beachcroft on October 31 last which "suggested fraud on behalf of the plaintiffs". It said the plaintiffs indicated they had instructed other solicitors.
In those circumstances the firm said it did not apply to formally come off record as it fully expected new solicitors to come on record in their place.
It said it had asked a barrister to attend the hearing as a courtesy to the court.
Judge Linnane said Mr Culleton's affidavits made for devastating reading. She said he believed evidence uncovered by the insurance company bore all of the hallmarks of a sustained pattern of organised insurance fraud.
The cases were taken by Joseph Stokes, a 22-year-old gardener; John O'Donnell (33) and Melissa McDonagh (26), all of Lynton Close, London; John Christopher McDonagh (26), of Lynton Close and Bridget Mongan (31), of Waterford Way, Dollis Hill, London. None of the plaintiffs was present in court.
Also not present was Robert Marsland, of Church View, Knockagorna, Omeath, Co Louth, who was named as a defendant in the five cases. He was the driver of the second car involved in the accident.
Barrister Moira Flahive, for RSA, said Mr Marsland was a named driver on a motor policy which expired just over two weeks after the Howth accident. Ownership of the car he was driving had been transferred into his name only one day before the accident and indemnity by the insurance company had been declined.
She said Mr Culleton's affidavit detailed how Mr Marsland denied having been involved in other accidents but this had turned out to be untrue as he had been involved in accidents in July 2014 and January 2015.
Ms Flahive said there had been enormous costs involved in RSA's investigation.
She applied for a costs order against all of the plaintiffs, which was granted.
The barrister said she had not received any instructions with regard to reporting the matter to the Law Society but would discuss it with the insurance company.
Dismissing the cases, Judge Linnane said fraud was a fact and had not been denied.
In a statement, RSA welcomed the outcome and said it would continue to investigate claims and refer suspect cases to gardaí.
The Law Society said it could not comment on an individual case or solicitor. In a statement it said: "If a complaint is made to the Law Society about the conduct of a solicitor, an investigation will take place.
"If the investigation discloses evidence of misconduct, the society will apply to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which is independent of the Law Society and the members of which are appointed by the President of the High Court, for a full sworn disciplinary inquiry."
The society also said it was an offence for a plaintiff to swear a verifying affidavit which they know to be false.