The now-defunct law firm Asons, together with the director of a one-time claims management company, have been ordered to pay £40,000 in costs to insurer LV= over a bogus whiplash claim.
Judge Godsmark QC at Nottingham County Court described the former Bolton firm’s conduct as “improper, unreasonable and negligent” in taking on the £3,000 claim without verifying that the claimant was genuinely providing instructions.
According to information provided by the solicitors to LV=, Horwich Farrelly, the claimant contacted an individual who had assisted him in relation to an earlier accident, who passed on his details to the now closed claims company. The case was referred to Asons.
The claimant failed to attend trial in September 2014 and was ordered to pay the costs of LV=. When the insurer sought to enforce the costs order against the claimant, he professed to know nothing about the claim brought in his name.
The claimant then launched proceedings to have the costs order set aside and for Asons to be held responsible for the costs. In response, Asons argued that it had had very limited contact with him and that liability lay with the director of the referral company. Both were joined to the proceedings.
Examination by a handwriting expert of documents – including the claim form, the particulars of claim and an authority to release medical records – concluded there was strong evidence the claimant’s signatures had been forged.
The judge found a range of inconsistencies in Asons’ file, and expressed “grave reservations as to whether the dates on file copy letters can be relied upon”, and photocopies of documents in which the claimant’s signature had potentially been cut and pasted.
He also found no evidence of any correspondence between Asons and the claimant, or that it had taken any steps to confirm his identity.
Although Judge Godsmark found Asons had been deceived by the director of the claims company, he said: “That a solicitors’ practice can purport to act for a client they have never met or had direct contact with is startling.
“That those solicitors feel able to commence litigation on behalf of an individual they have never met or had direct with, without any funding arrangement in place, is frankly appalling.
“When I add to that the manner in which the litigation was pursued with falsification of the dates of letters (also to deceive), the picture is deeply disturbing.”
Ronan McCann, a partner at Horwich Farrelly, said “This ruling highlights the shoddy practices of Asons Solicitors who appeared to make numerous attempts to conceal their previously negligent handling of the claim.”
Clare Lunn, director of fraud at LV=, added: “For too long corrupt lawyers, medical experts and other professional enablers have tried to evade justice by hiding behind a veneer of respectability…
“As an industry we need to continue to take a tough stance against such conduct which will act as a deterrent to stop such practices.”