Friday 19 July 2019

Solicitors should be 'more selective' about personal injury clients - judge dismisses €300k whiplash claims

Claims by London members of the travelling community allegedly on a sight-seeing tour of Dublin

Judge Jacqueline Linnane. Photo: CourtPix
Judge Jacqueline Linnane. Photo: CourtPix

Ray Managh and Amy Molloy

A judge expressed the strongest criticism yet by the judiciary of some members of the legal profession today.

“Perhaps some solicitors should be a bit more selective about who they take on,” Judge Jacqueline Linnane stated in the Circuit Civil Court when dismissing five fraudulent damages claims for up to €300,000 by London members of the travelling community allegedly on a sight-seeing tour of Dublin.

The judge directed that all of the documented evidence brought together in five files by legal and investigative staff of RSA Insurance Ireland, who carried out a major investigation into the claims, be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Judge Linnane also suggested that RSA Insurance should consider contacting the Incorporated Law Society.  She said none of these cases would proceed to court unless solicitors agreed to act in them and she felt that some committee within the Law Society might be concerned about it.

“Maybe fuller inquiries should be made by solicitors before they take on these cases but I will leave it to RSA whether they wish to instruct their legal representatives to bring it to the attention of the Law Society,” Judge Linnane told barrister Moira Flahive, counsel for the insurance firm.

Judge Linnane said P. Tiernan and Company, of 9 Crowe Street, Dundalk, Co Louth, solicitors for the five claimants, had not turned up in court for the application by RSA to have all of the cases dismissed but had only on Tuesday evening phoned a barrister to appear without explicit instructions or papers.

She said RSA’s applications had not been challenged in what were undisputed fraudulent claims.

Joseph Stokes, a 22-year-old gardener; John O’Donnell (33) and Melissa McDonagh (26), all of 27 Lynton Close, London; John Christopher McDonagh, aged 26 of 5 Lynton Close and Bridget Mongan, aged 31, of 15 Waterford Way, Dollis Hill, London, had all claimed €60,000 each in relation to alleged whiplash injuries they claimed to have suffered in an accident in May 2015 near Sutton Road, Howth, Dublin.

Judge Linnane said that from the affidavit of Mr Culleton it was clear the accident and other accidents and people closely associated with the plaintiffs were part of a sustained pattern of organised insurance fraud.

Robert Marsland, Church View, Knockagorna, Omeath, Co Louth, owner and driver of the second car involved in the May 2015 accident was also named as a defendant in the five cases before the court but did not appear.

Ms Flahive 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 at the time 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 revealed that Mr Marsland had denied having been involved in any other accidents but this had turned out to be untrue as he had been involved in accidents in January 2015 and 19th July 2014.

Judge Linnane said fraud was a fact in the case and had not been denied. She said the five plaintiffs had stated they had been on a sight-seeing trip to Dublin. It was clear they had travelled from London to stage the accident in Dublin.

Judge Linnane said some solicitors did not even say in correspondence that they had tried to contact their client without success or had been unable to get instructions from their clients. 

Ms Flahive said there had been enormous costs involved in RSA’s investigation into the accident and the background relating to other people and other accidents and she applied for a costs order against all of the plaintiffs which was granted.

The judge dismissed all of the claims and directed that the papers in all of the cases be sent to the DPP. Ms Flahive 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.

None of the claimants or Robert Marsland appeared in court.

In a statement, Paula Tiernan solicitors said their firm ‘does not act in cases involving claims of a fraudulent nature.’

They said they had received a letter from DAC Beachcroft on October 31 2018 which “suggested fraud on the part of the plaintiffs.”

“We spoke to the plaintiffs in relation to this and advised them we were no longer willing to act on their behalf,” said the solicitors.

“We advised the plaintiffs to discontinue the action but they indicated they were instructing another firm to act on their behalf.”

The solicitors said they wrote to DAC Beachcroft on November 2 last advising they were no longer acting in the matter and that other solicitors would be coming on record.

“We also wrote to each of the plaintiffs confirming they we were no longer acting on their behalf due to allegations being made by the defendant’s solicitors in respect of the matter,” the statement added.

In response to an inquiry from DAC Beachcroft on February 6 last again confirming that they were not acting for the plaintiffs in this matter, they claimed.

They again reiterated their position in a telephone call in April 8 last, having been informed that day by their former client that they had instructed a new firm of solicitors.

“It was in those circumstances that we did not apply to formally come off record as we fully expected a new firm of solicitors to come on record,” said the statement.

“We asked a barrister to attend court today as a matter of courtesy to the court.”

“We had expected the plaintiffs’ new solicitors to be in attendance and to come on record,” the statement said.

The Road Safety Authority welcomed the judge's comments.

A spokesman told Independent.ie: “RSA Insurance Ireland welcomes the court’s judgement in this case. RSA Insurance Ireland will continue to investigate claims which it believes could be fraudulent and will continue to refer suspect cases to An Garda Siochana.

“We believe this in the best interests of the company and of the vast majority of our customers who do not engage in fraudulent behaviour.”

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