Dishonest claimant sees his vehicle related damage claim dismissed and may yet be sent to prison

Mr John Vernon’s claim, which arose out of an alleged road traffic accident on 29 August 2014, started life in an unremarkable way but it brought a…

John Vernon v Tuffnells LTL 01/11/2017

Executive summary

Mr John Vernon’s claim, which arose out of an alleged road traffic accident on 29 August 2014, started life in an unremarkable way but it brought a decision which is favourable to those defending vehicle damage claims and it may yet spell prison time for the claimant.

The facts

It was said that the Tuffnells driver reversed into the claimant’s parked Audi Q7, which had been in the custody of his son, Bobby, at the time. With the assistance of Direct Accident Management and Armstrongs Solicitors, the claimant claimed for the pre-accident value of the Q7 and other alleged losses, including credit hire.

The claimant claimed the Q7 was an unroadworthy write-off. He could not say whether it had been repaired as he sold it in its damaged state to an unknown buyer. Plus, he apparently had no other vehicles available to him and, as an impecunious gentleman, he found himself with no choice but to incur significant hire charges.

However, troubling matters soon came to light. It was discovered that, after its alleged disposal, the Q7 was repaired and re-insured by the claimant and, in connection with a police investigation into Bobby, the Q7 was spotted on several occasions being driven by him. Yet further, the claimant had a motor trade policy and insured several vehicles during the hire period.

The issues

The case, in which fraud was alleged by Tuffnells, was heard in front of Mr Recorder Poole QC over a two day trial. The claimant and his star witness, Bobby (who, at the time of the trial, was on remand in connection with serious drug related offences) attempted to modify their stories to deal with the damaging evidence which Tuffnells had obtained. They claimed that repairs to the Q7 were ‘partial’ and that none of the other vehicles which had been identified – including one which was carrying what was self-evidently the claimant’s private plate - were available to him to drive.

In closing argument, and no doubt in an attempt to divert judicial attention from to the evidence of dishonesty, the claimant’s counsel made an interesting submission. It was said, in relation to the vehicle damage claim, that Coles & Others v Hetherton & Others [2013] EWCA Civ 1704 lent support to the conclusions that the true measure of loss was the loss in value of the Q7, the assessor’s report upon which the claimant relied was sufficient to demonstrate the loss of value and the fact that ‘partial’ repairs were subsequently carried out was irrelevant.

In response to that argument, counsel for Tuffnells accepted that the correct measure of loss, in respect of the Q7, was its diminution. However, it was pointed out that the High Court, in Coles, remarked that the production of a repair invoice is frequently the best way of demonstrating the prima facie loss of value, this finding by the High Court in Coles had not been overturned by the Court of Appeal and, as the claimant had deliberately concealed the repair documentation, he had not proven his claim.

Judgment

In his judgment, the recorder found ‘without hesitation’ that the claim was dishonest, citing six discreet areas of dishonesty. In relation to the claimant’s diminution argument, the judge said this:

There is a claim for the pre-accident value of the car less salvage value. The engineer’s report supports that claim but the claimant’s evidence is that in fact repairs were done to the car at a much lower cost than that anticipated by the engineer. In part this is because, the claimant says, those repairs were partial only and the vehicle was then later sold. Hence, to assess the claim for diminution in value of the vehicle due to the accidental damage, which is put at £16,000, the court would need evidence of what repairs were done at what cost and at what price the car was sold at and when. I do not have that evidence. I am not prepared to speculate about it and therefore the true diminution in value of the car, if any, is not proved.

Unsurprisingly, the claim was dismissed. You can read the full judgment.

Contempt proceedings

Such was the level of dishonesty and perseverance of the claimant in this case, Tuffnells has since issued contempt proceedings against him. At a recent hearing, permission was given and a trial is expected the first quarter of 2018.

Comment

This decision, which appears on Lawtel, is likely to be very helpful for insurers.

It is often suspected that conclusions contained in the engineers’ reports upon which claimants rely are unrealistic and that, when vehicles are purported to be written off or damaged to a certain extent, claimants go on to have their vehicles repaired for an amount which is appreciably lower than the market value or the estimated cost of repairs.

Insurers are entitled to ask for the evidence of the cost of those repairs and, claimants who conceal the cost, may well find their vehicle damage claims dismissed in full.

As to the outcome of the contempt proceedings… watch this space.

Should you wish to discuss this issue in more detail or would like assistance with any other matter, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Jeff Turton, Associate, on 0151 242 6968 or email jeff.turton@weightmans.com

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