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Blake & Ors v White Van Gentleman Ltd
Cardiff County Court
Before: HHJ Vosper QC
19 and 20 September 2016

Two claimants who made personal injury claims after a low speed road traffic collision near the Houses of Parliament had their claims dismissed and were found to be fundamentally dishonest. The defendants relied heavily on Sky Sports footage showing both claimants being coached by former international rugby union players Will Greenwood and Scott Quinnell, and playing rugby, at a time when they both claimed to be injured.

DWF Senior Solicitor, Colin Vickers, who defended the civil claims brought against White Van Gentleman and their insurers Markerstudy and led the investigation, looks at the background to the claims and some of the intelligence that was gathered, leading the Court to conclude that the claims were fundamentally dishonest, so that the Claimants lost their protection under the QOCS regime.

Background

The Claimants were two of 25 passengers on a coach that was travelling from Wembley Stadium to Cardiff on 9 March 2015.  The coach was proceeding along the carriageway near the Houses of Parliament when, owing to a momentary lapse of concentration by their employee, a Transit van belonging to ‘White Van Gentleman'’ rolled into the rear of the coach. 

Within six weeks of the incident occurring, six CNFs had been received from passengers on the coach claiming for personal injury and various financial losses, all of whom were represented by the same solicitors in Macclesfield, even though the Claimants were all from South Wales. The Claimants were all males in their 20s or 30s. Proceedings were issued by Steven Blake and Caine Herbert, both of whom served medical evidence in support of their claims for personal injury, comprising soft tissue injuries to the neck, or whiplash. The expert was the same for both Claimants.

White Van Gentleman's employee accepted that he had breached his duty of care in allowing the vehicles to come together, but his evidence was that the contact was so trivial that it could not have caused injury.

Opportunity Knocks

During the course of investigations carried out by Colin Vickers, it was discovered that the Claimants were at the time of the incident engaged in a rehabilitation programme called ‘School of Hard Knocks’.  This programme sought to assist unemployed and/or ex-offenders to rehabilitate themselves through rugby and army training and through the development of other soft skills.

Whilst the programme was underway it was filmed by Sky Sports, and was broadcast in August 2015, across four episodes.  The rugby coaching was led by former rugby union internationals Will Greenwood and Scott Quinnell. Some of the footage that was broadcast showed the participants attending an interview day in London that took place on 9 March 2015, which confirmed the Claimants' purpose of journey and confirmed them as being passengers on the coach. Footage also showed that the Claimants were engaged in rugby and other sporting activities, the day after the incident and on several occasions in the weeks following.

Both Claimants failed to mention this activity to their medical expert.  One of the Claimants went as far as to say to his medical expert that he could not play rugby and greatly missed being involved in sporting activity.

Strictly Come Chancing

Four hundred hours of footage was obtained from Sky Sports together with a copy of the four episode broadcast.  It was the broadcast which was shown to the Court.  It was highlighted by the Defendant's Counsel, William Wraight that both Claimants were heavily involved in the rugby training, despite what they had both told their medical experts. During the course of an 80 minute rugby match at Cardiff Arms Park on 24 March 2015, both Claimants played in the front row of the pack in a game against Welsh Rugby League side, Cardiff Harlequins.

When one of the Claimants was asked to clarify why he had told his medical expert that he could not play rugby, he stated that he did not mean that he could not play rugby at all, rather that he could not play rugby properly. 

When the other Claimant was asked to explain the apparent disparity, he said that he was taking tramadol pain medication at the time the game was taking place and therefore would not have been able to feel his injuries when playing rugby.

The Insurers relied upon evidence from its Insured's employee and from the coach driver, together with evidence from the School of Hard Knocks course coordinator, who was also on the coach and who all confirmed that the incident was trivial and little more than a bump.

Bullseye

Dismissing the claims, His Honour Judge Vosper QC placed great emphasis upon the Sky Sports footage and remarked that it clearly showed that the Claimants had lied.  The Court also relied upon the evidence from the coach driver who said that the un-laden weight of that coach would have been 12.5 tons and it would have therefore taken a significant impact to have caused injury to any of the occupants on board.

His Honour Judge Vosper QC found that both claims were fundamentally dishonest.  The Court heard submissions from the Claimants' Counsel that low velocity impact cases were not intended to be covered by CPR r.44.16 and that whilst the claims had failed, he submitted that it should not follow that QOCS should be dis-applied.  Claimants' Counsel submitted that the rules on fundamental dishonesty in r.44.16 were intended for more serious allegations of fraud, such as phantom, staged and contrived fraud claims. He submitted that the incident had happened and the Claimants had proven that they had been passengers on board the coach at the time of the incident.

His Honour Judge Vosper QC dismissed those submissions and pointed towards the Part 18 Responses that had been provided by the Claimants in response to Part 18 Questions drafted by DWF, and which had been put to the Claimants pre-trial.  One particular question asked whether the Claimants had been advised as to the potential consequences if their claims failed and they were found to be fundamentally dishonest.  The Claimants had responded to that question stating that they had received full advice and were aware of the potential consequences. 

On that basis, His Honour found that the Claimants had contemplated the failure of their claims and knew of the consequences if their claims did not succeed and had decided to push on nevertheless and he found that both claims were fundamentally dishonest, that both Claimants had lied and/or mislead their medical experts and the Court and that they should therefore be ordered to pay the Defendant's costs of having to defend the claim.  The Claimants were ordered to pay the Defendant's costs of £21,397.87. 

Interestingly, his Honour Judge Vosper QC made a finding that not only did he dismiss the claims and find them fundamentally dishonest, he positively found that the incident was such that it would not have caused personal injury to anybody involved.  This comment led to the demise of the four further Claimants who also had served CNFs in addition to the two litigated Claimants and will clearly put off any of the other 19 passengers who were on board the coach at the time from pursuing a claim. 

Had the Claimants succeeded at Trial, each stood to gain around £17,500, including costs. It was thought by the Insurers that if the two litigated claims had been successful then a raft of personal injury claims would have been pursued. On that basis, the Insurer could well have faced 25 personal injury claims which would have led to a likely reserve in excess of £200,000.  

Comment

The Claimants’ attempt to wriggle out of the evidence that they faced and, even though they proved that they were involved in a genuine accident, their claims were still found to have been fundamentally dishonest.

The Defence raised issues over causation based on a low speed impact argument.  The outcome here should act to deter Claimants who think that they might have a ‘free run’ in LVI cases, without facing the consequences if their claims do not succeed.

There was clear evidence of dishonesty and the claims should have been discontinued upon service of that evidence. 

At the time that the Part 18 questions were raised, it was not envisaged that they would prove crucial to the Court accepting that the claims were fundamentally dishonest.

Both Claimants are now being pursued for recovery of the costs as ordered in the sum of £21,397.87.

Contact

For more information about this case, please contact Colin Vickers on 0151 907 3323, or by email colin.vickers@dwf.law

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This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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