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Lawyer claims he was defamed by business group's comments on fraudulent personal injuries case

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'Isme chief executive Neil McDonnell said: “This matter is now before the High Court, and is in the hands of our insurers and their legal counsel.”' (stock photo)

'Isme chief executive Neil McDonnell said: “This matter is now before the High Court, and is in the hands of our insurers and their legal counsel.”' (stock photo)

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'Isme chief executive Neil McDonnell said: “This matter is now before the High Court, and is in the hands of our insurers and their legal counsel.”' (stock photo)

A lawyer involved in a personal injuries action where one client's claim was dismissed as fraudulent and another's as exaggerated is suing a business group over comments it made after the case.

Limerick solicitor Gerard O'Neill has issued defamation proceedings against the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (Isme) over the contents of press releases it published following a High Court judgment last year. The solicitor disputes the accuracy of the statements and claims his reputation was damaged.

Isme has long been vocal on the impact of compensation claims on businesses and has lobbied for new perjury laws and the slashing of award levels for minor personal injuries.

A key issue in the case was that Mr O'Neill, rather than a doctor, referred claimants Ashraf Ali and Rosaleen O'Connell to a consultant to progress their claims. Isme issued two press releases after the judgment and made a complaint about Mr O'Neill to the Law Society. The ­complaint was rejected.

The claimants sued for ­personal injuries arising from a minor road collision in ­Limerick in 2015.

Mr Ali, of Dooradoyle, ­Limerick, alleged his car was rear-ended by Dr Ruth Martin.

Ms O'Connell, of Dock Road, Limerick, claimed she was in Mr Ali's car at the time.

Both claimed they suffered soft tissue injuries.

In May last year, Mr Justice Michael Twomey dismissed Mr Ali's claim as "exaggerated" and found that he gave "misleading" evidence about the circumstances of the crash, the nature of the impact and the effect it had on his neck and back. The judge concluded Ms O'Connell was not in the car and that, on the balance of probabilities, she had made a fraudulent claim.

In his judgment, he said Ms O'Connell had used the professional expertise of two lawyers and two doctors in order to create what had all the appearance of a legitimate claim.

This could have led to a ­settlement if Dr Martin's insurers had wanted to avoid the costs of a full High Court hearing, the judge observed.

He added the case highlighted the need for lawyers, doctors and other professionals to be alive to the possibility of being used to facilitate the bringing of fraudulent claims.

He said a key factor undermining the claims was that, contrary to what the court regarded as the usual practice of a GP referring a patient to a consultant, it was a solicitor, with no medical expertise, who referred both plaintiffs to progress their claims.

This led the court to the ­unavoidable conclusion there was "no medical need" for the referrals, but "a legal need" to support a claim for damages.

In response to Isme's ­complaint, the Law Society said the views expressed in the judgment fell far short of the standard required to justify an intervention by the society.

In a subsequent judgment in an unrelated case last December, Mr Justice Twomey said it was crucial to realise that in any comment about lawyers exercising care in presenting claims, that the lawyer cannot be criticised simply because the claim turns out to be fraudulent or exaggerated.

Referring to the Ali and O'Connell cases, he added it should be noted the solicitor and counsel involved "were not criticised by this court in any way for how they represented their clients".

"This is because they both have a duty to act on the instructions of their clients," he said. "The truth or ­otherwise of those claims is a ­matter for the court and not the lawyers."

Mr O'Neill declined to comment. Isme chief executive Neil McDonnell said: "This matter is now before the High Court, and is in the hands of our insurers and their legal counsel."

Irish Independent