Winham v Graham – Barnsley County Court in inflated credit repair costs dispute

Weightmans were successful in defending a claim brought by a claimant for inflated credit repair charges

Executive Summary

Inflated credit repair costs. Weightmans were successful in defending a claim brought by a claimant for inflated credit repair charges where the claimant had originally provided a quote from the same garage who ultimately carried out the repairs at half the costs invoiced by Accident Exchange.

Facts

The claimant and defendant were involved in a road traffic collision, liability for which was accepted by the defendant. The claimant claimed for the repairs to his vehicle and presented an estimate from Sandals BMW totalling £3,741.16. Shortly after, the claimant entered into a credit repair and hire agreement with Accident Exchange (“AX”).

The claimant subsequently produced a credit repair bill in the sum of £7,436.50 from Sandals BMW who had been instructed to undertake the repair by AX.

Closer examination of the estimate and invoice revealed the only difference was the supply and fit of a new rear wheel and wheel alignment check. There was nothing to justify an increase in repair costs of almost £4,000.00.

The defendant’s insurer paid the repair costs limited to the estimate total and disputed the balance claimed by AX. A full explanation for the increase in costs from the original estimate was requested and the photographs taken of the damage by AX’s appointed engineer. Neither was provided.

Meanwhile, the repairing garage confirmed that the original estimate was prepared without any knowledge of the involvement of the claim proceeding via insurance or accident management. However, they went on to say that once the car was brought in through AX the damage to the car was re-estimated and additional costs were deemed necessary i.e. the labour rate and parts process were increased.

Weightmans were instructed to defend the claim once proceedings were issued for the balance of the repair costs and hire charges, and a defence was entered challenging the balance of the repairs claimed based on the original estimate.

During the course of disclosure it transpired that there was no documentary evidence to support any agreement for credit repairs to be undertaken between AX and the claimant.

Judgment

The matter proceeded to a small claims hearing on 17 November 2017 where the court found that the defendant’s requests for photographs and a narrative of the extent of the damage on stripping had been ignored. The court also held, as fact, that there was clear evidence from the repairer’s invoice that no additional work had been carried out due to unforeseen damage being identified.

The “knock out” evidence was:-

  • An email from the repairer to AX exposed the difference in pricing arose from whether the repairs were required by a private customer or an insurer/accident management instruction. The costs for the latter would be higher and "more repairs may have been required".  The AX’s engineer’s estimate was grossly inflated and the lack of any coherent explanation or evidence in support was a matter of concern for the court in considering the fundamental legitimacy of the repair claim pursued.
  • AX had also expressly accepted in writing that they would be liable to pay "any invoice (from Sandal) in relation to this repair in accordance the agreed terms and conditions" as contained within the claimant’s disclosed documents.  The invoice was addressed to the claimant's husband and not the claimant; the claimant bore no liability to AX; she had not been sent AX’s engineer’s report to approve, or the invoice. Whatever "agreement" AX had with the repairer was of no consequence to the claimant.  If the invoice had been paid by AX there was no subrogation in the absence of a contract between them. If it had not been paid that was a matter for the repairer to raise with AX and not the Claimant.

Handing down judgment, the court held that the claimant was not liable for the £3635.34 balance and the express denial in the defence had to succeed.  There was no contractual agreement for the claimant to pay for repairs arranged by AX (no credit repair or other agreement). The District Judge:

  • Expressed concern at the inflated AX estimate;
  • Concluded that the case had been brought when there was no cause of action by the claimant against the defendant;
  • Found that the pursuit of it was "hopeless" and he dismissed the claim.

Weightmans successfully applied for indemnity costs, given the serious issues raised over the conduct of AX and also obtained an order to show cause why AX should not pay the defendant’s costs.

Comment

It has long been a challenge to successfully dispute credit repair costs. However, where there is a genuine dispute over cost, and where a claimant or Credit Hire Organisation cannot justify the extra expense, this case shows that the courts are willing to treat claims for credit repair as they would any other inflated head of claim.

What it does highlight is that where a Credit Hire Organisation or insurer is involved in repairs, that the costs submitted are inflated to no benefit of the claimant, leaving them open to challenge by defendants particularly where the presented costs for a seemingly minor repair appear excessive.

Simply because a claimant is claiming repair costs via credit repair does not mean they can go unchallenged. If you are presented with a claim you feel is inflated then obtaining your own evidence as to those costs will assist in any litigation.

For more information regarding this case contact Adam Skelland, Solicitor on 0151 242 6857 or email adam.skelland@weightmans.com

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