High Court: €30,000 awarded to injured motorist despite fraud allegations by defendant

The High Court has awarded €30,000 to a plaintiff injured in a car crash despite allegations that he fraudulently exaggerated his claim. The Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland had moved to dismiss the case under Section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. It was alleged that the plaintiff lied to his doctors in order to make them give misleading and false testimony in court.

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For this case:

  • Citation:

    [2022] IEHC 108

  • Evaluation:
  • Dish:

    High Court

  • Judge:

    Lord Justice Anthony Barr

In delivering judgment in this case, Mr Justice Anthony Barr ruled that he was limited to making a decision on the basis of the evidence actually presented in court. False statements to a doctor would therefore not necessarily trigger the provisions of section 26. Since liability and causation were not at issue, the court ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to compensation.

background

The plaintiff was involved in a traffic accident in 2017. He was a passenger in the first defendant’s car. As the car rounded a bend, an oncoming car pulled into their side of the road and collided with the first defendant’s car.

The defaulting driver did not stop and was untraceable. As such, MIBI was appointed as a second defendant under the terms of the MIBI Agreements. MIBI questioned neither causality nor liability.

The plaintiff claimed to have sustained injuries to his back and neck. However, it was alleged that the plaintiff was untruthful in relation to the information he had given the doctors in this case. In particular, MIBI alleged that the plaintiff deliberately underestimated his injuries from a previous accident in 2008.

In the 2008 accident, the plaintiff was a passenger in a car that was hit by another vehicle. He again claimed to have sustained neck and back injuries. The MIBI were also involved in the personal injury proceedings. The matter came up for trial in 2016, but the plaintiff withdrew the lawsuit. On cross-examination, it was suggested that MIBI could prove the 2008 accident was a staging, but this was denied by the plaintiff.

The plaintiff was also accused of providing the court with false and misleading evidence when he stated that his neck and back injuries from the 2008 accident lasted six months. MIBI produced records from the plaintiff’s GP showing that he had persistent back pain in 2014 and 2015.

It was also alleged that the plaintiff had given misleading information to the only doctor who testified on his behalf. A forensic medical report had been drawn up by a doctor commissioned by the plaintiff’s lawyer. The report included a 2017 report by the plaintiff that his back was fully healed and that he had no other medical problems. Given the content of the GP’s notes and the neck pain claim, it was argued that this information was false and misleading.

Plaintiff’s doctor accepted that she had been hired by counsel and had not seen any of plaintiff’s medical records. She also accepted that her opinion was based on the information provided by the plaintiff.

In addition, the plaintiff had told two other doctors that he was involved in the 2008 accident. He told one doctor that his injuries would heal in a few months while the other doctor was told he had recovered in 3 or 4 years with no previous injuries or neck or back problems.

High Court

In an ex tempore ruling, Judge Barr carefully reviewed the medical evidence presented to the court. It was determined that prior to December 2016, there was only one indication of neck pain in the plaintiff’s files. The court ruled that this was not indicative of ongoing long-term neck problems, especially if the plaintiff was only prescribed analgesics. The court was satisfied that the neck symptoms from the 2008 accident only lasted about six months.

The court also found that the plaintiff had been referred to a pain clinic for his lower back twice, in 2015 and 2016, but neither appointment was kept. However, the plaintiff received three injections in his neck between 2017 and 2021, which did not appear to improve his pain.

The court noted that “there were a number of peculiarities in this case which caused the court some concerns”. First, the court could not think of any credible reason why the plaintiff would have dropped his 2008 lawsuit, other than because the plaintiff was engaged in fraudulent activity. This was the case when the plaintiff invoked the privilege of legal advice on the decision to withdraw.

The court also disapproved that the plaintiff’s lawyer had commissioned the plaintiff’s expert directly to prepare a forensic report. The doctor was not the plaintiff’s general practitioner or an attending physician, which has been criticized by several courts (Fogarty v Cox [2017] IECA 309; Dardis vs. Poplovka (No. 1) [2017] IEHC 149). The court found that the disadvantages of not reimbursing the treating physician in the case were clearly established.

The fact that none of the plaintiff’s treating physicians was invited to testify was “extraordinary”, according to the court. It was noted that the plaintiff’s family doctor did not respond to the correspondence, but the court pointed out that a subpoena could easily have been issued.

In light of the Section 26 request, the court ruled that such requests “are limited to actual evidence presented by or on behalf of the plaintiff at the hearing of the complaint.” False statements to a doctor therefore do not automatically violate these provisions. However, the fact of incorrect information could be taken into account by a court.

The court accepted that the plaintiff had voluntarily provided MIBI with all relevant medical information, and the court was satisfied that the plaintiff had approached the proceedings “with the cards up”.

The court ruled that the plaintiff was “essentially telling the truth” that his neck problems had completely resolved after a short period of time. There was simply no evidence of persistent neck discomfort in the medical records.

The court was satisfied that the plaintiff had pre-existing degenerative changes to his spine that were likely symptomatic after the 2008 accident and worsened after the 2017 accident. However, in the absence of evidence from a treating doctor, it was extremely difficult for the court to assess damages in the case.

Conclusion

Taking into account the MRI scans and the likelihood of more problems in the future, the court ruled that the plaintiff had been seriously injured in the 2017 accident.

The court awarded 20,000 euros for general damages and 10,000 euros for compensation for pain and suffering in the future.