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Man sentenced to a year’s imprisonment after exaggerating personal injury claim

A man who submitted a £1.35m claim for injuries in a car crash has been sentenced to a year’s imprisonment after footage emerged of him playing…

A man who submitted a £1.35 million claim for damages for injuries in a car crash has been sentenced to one year’s imprisonment after the courts found him guilty of contempt of court – when footage of him playing football revealed he had exaggerated his symptoms.

James Shikell was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment for contempt of court on Friday 18 March 2011. His father Robert Shikell also received a year’s imprisonment for his role in supporting his son’s claim whilst a third man, Simon Fennell was fined for providing a false statement in James Shikell’s personal injury claim.

Elaine Chapman, a partner at national law firm Weightmans LLP, advised the Motor Insurers’ Bureau in the defence of the personal injury claim and in bringing the contempt of court claim.

Elaine said:

“This landmark judgment sends a clear and resounding message that high value cases are no longer the ‘no lose gamble’ for individuals making fraudulent claims. The custodial sentences imposed reflect the zero tolerance approach of the judiciary towards insurance fraud.”

James Shikell was involved in a road traffic accident in the early hours of 31 December 2002. He was with other passengers in a vehicle driven by Richard Powell, who was uninsured. It was accepted by all sides that the accident was caused by Powell’s negligent driving.

A personal injury claim was issued in the High Court by Irwin Mitchell Solicitors for all three passengers in the vehicle in December 2005. Because Powell was uninsured, the Motor Insurers’ Bureau stood as the defendant in the personal injury claim.

A substantial claim for serious personal injury for James Shikell was made which included the following cognitive, behavioural and physical impairments:

  • Impairment of memory, particularly short-term memory
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Difficulties in decision-making
  • Severe fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Poor motivation
  • Poor co-ordination
  • Aching and stiffness in his neck and ankles

In December 2008, the Motor Insurer’s Bureau instructed Weightmans law firm to use enquiry agents who filmed Mr Shikell playing football vigorously and competitively throughout a 90 minute game. A request seeking information in relation to his football playing was sent to Shikell however this request was never answered, although it was evident from the football club’s website that Mr Shikell was captain of the team and had played in all of the matches that season, having gained in some the accolade of ‘man of the match’.

The Motor Insurers’ Bureau was granted permission in October 2009 to bring proceedings for contempt of court against James Shikell, his father and his football team mate Simon Fennell on the basis that they were all actively involved in attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Elaine explained:

“24 counts were brought in total, with 16 of those brought against James Shikell. These counts were based on the witness statements he made to the effect that he was unable to play football and on his general level of incapacity.

“The case against the father Robert Shikell was based on statements he provided and the fact that he was present during certain examinations with medical and legal professionals and heard the false reports made by his son.”

Her Honour Judge Blecher, sitting at Leeds District Court, found James Shikell guilty of 14 of the 16 counts against him. She said that she was satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that the only reason for him telling the lie was to increase the likely award of damages in the personal injury claim.

Elaine says that the case will pave the way for insurers to tackle those claimants they believe are submitting fraudulent or exaggerated claims for damages following injury:

“The insurance industry loses millions to fraudulent claims every year but cases like this one show that the tide is turning. Insurers are no longer willing to be cowed into paying out for fraudulent claims and we expect this case to lead the fight against fraudulent personal injury claims.”

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