Saturday 16 February 2019

No solicitor probed for colluding with 'chancers' to bring fraudulent claims

Concerns at fraudulent cases: The chief executive of ISME said there were serious issues with solicitors using the line they ‘acted in good faith’. Stock picture
Concerns at fraudulent cases: The chief executive of ISME said there were serious issues with solicitors using the line they ‘acted in good faith’. Stock picture
Assertion: Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society, said if a solicitor was found to have acted for a client when they knew a personal injuries claim was fraudulent, that would likely be ‘career-ending for that solicitor’. Picture: Damien Eagers
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

No solicitor has ever been investigated for knowingly helping a client bring a fraudulent case, despite insurers probing hundreds of potentially bogus claims.

Insurance costs are soaring, and high levels of fraud have been blamed - with claimants even flying into Ireland to bring injury claims due to high payouts here.

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Business groups stung by high costs have demanded that "ambulance-chasing" lawyers are thoroughly investigated and brought to book.

But the Irish Independent has confirmed that not one solicitor has been investigated for bringing a case they knew to be fraudulent by the Law Society, the body which represents solicitors in Ireland.

Similarly, nobody has ever been prosecuted for insurance fraud or perjury in such cases meaning that people who lie in court are escaping unpunished.

Neil McDonnell, chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME), said it was "naive" to believe all solicitors accept instruction from their clients in "good faith" when "the facts of the case are there in black and white".

"I understand there may be cases where clients are telling blatant lies to their solicitor, but there are serious issues with solicitors always using the standard line that they acted in good faith, when there are many cases which have no basic grounding in fact," he told the Irish Independent. "In our view, if you want to represent chancers, you have to bear some level of moral hazard and the moment certain solicitors aren't doing that and the Law Society isn't acting on it.

"At least one ambulance-chasing solicitor, recorded by an Irish Independent journalist, boasted about how even two 'chancers with fraudulent claims' were not pursued for costs by the insurers. That solicitor has a case to answer, but then again personal injury claims represent big money for solicitors and they are economically incentivised to ignore potentially fraudulent cases."

Assertion: Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society, said if a solicitor was found to have acted for a client when they knew a personal injuries claim was fraudulent, that would likely be ‘career-ending for that solicitor’. Picture: Damien Eagers
Assertion: Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society, said if a solicitor was found to have acted for a client when they knew a personal injuries claim was fraudulent, that would likely be ‘career-ending for that solicitor’. Picture: Damien Eagers

Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society, said if a solicitor was found to have acted for a client when they knew a personal injuries claim was fraudulent, that would likely be "career-ending for that solicitor".

However, he said no such case has ever been referred by a judge to the Law Society for investigation.

"If a judge, in a civil action for damages, believes there is evidence that a solicitor in the case has knowingly colluded in the bringing of a fraudulent claim, the judge can refer the matter to the Law Society for investigation," Mr Murphy said. "The society will immediately investigate the matter and, if the evidence warranted, bring the matter before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

"However, no such reference by a judge to the Law Society, that a solicitor in a case has knowingly colluded in the bringing of a fraudulent claim, has ever been made."

The Irish Independent previously highlighted a solicitor bragging about how two clients weren't pursued for costs after their fraudulent claims were dismissed.

"I've only lost two [personal injury] cases in 10 years and that's because they were chancers with fraudulent claims and even then they didn't go after them for costs, they usually don't," the solicitor said during an undercover legal consultation.

When asked to comment on this, a Law Society spokesperson said: "The Law Society cannot pre-judge any possible breaches of regulations or make public comment on specific cases. However, we do proactively seek out regulation breaches and investigate possible breaches brought to our attention."

Mr Murphy said the fact a plaintiff fails in an action for damages does not mean the claim was fraudulent. "It is of fundamental importance to remember that it is the plaintiff that brings the claim, not their solicitor," he added.

"In addition, the medical evidence in the case is provided by a medical professional in their written report or oral evidence; not by the plaintiff's solicitor. Both the plaintiff and their doctor can be cross-examined on their evidence at trial."

The Irish Independent reported a recent case where a man who was involved in a car crash with a woman - who is being investigated by gardaí for a separate accident - withdrew his personal injury claim.

The woman involved brought a €60,000 damages claim for a separate accident after the car she was travelling in was rear-ended in Dublin.

Two days later, she was involved in another accident with the above man who later withdrew his claim.

Both accidents were allegedly caused by a mysterious object/animal crossing the path of the vehicle, causing the driver to brake suddenly.

The same solicitor's firm acted for both clients in both cases.

The woman did not bring a claim for the second accident and denied she was involved when cross-examined about the Dublin accident. However, the investigating garda said he recognised the woman from the second crash and took her details - which were the same details she gave the garda investigating her first crash.

The judge described the woman as "a fraud" who had deliberately set a trap for an unsuspecting driver behind her by slamming on her brakes and causing a rear-ending accident.

When asked about this, the Law Society said: "A plaintiff in a personal injuries action must swear an affidavit verifying any assertions or allegations on which the claim is made.

"It is an offence for the plaintiff to make a statement in this 'verifying affidavit' which they know to be false or misleading."

A group campaigning for reduced insurance costs is calling for the Government to introduce a dedicated Garda unit tasked with tackling fraudulent compensation claims.

Peter Boland, director of the Alliance for Insurance Reform, said the legal profession needs to do its part in tackling fraudulent and exaggerated claims.

German insurance company Allianz recently revealed how it challenged over 1,500 claimants in the courts in 2018, adding that nearly half of the cases it brings to court are potentially fraudulent.

Irish Independent

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