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High Court gives whiplash contempt proceedings green light

Whiplash: clear message to public

A High Court judge has allowed a bus company’s application for committal proceedings to go ahead against two dishonest former claimants who said they had serious whiplash injuries from a minor traffic collision, when CCTV showed otherwise.

The original claim was dismissed after camera footage showed the claimants’ stationary car had hardly moved when struck by the bus, although they claimed that four and five to six weeks’ severe pain resulted, respectively.

An expert witness recanted his opinion that soft tissue injury could have occurred after seeing it and the district judge found the claimants were “fundamentally dishonest”.

Allowing the application in Abellion London v Ahuja & Anor [2017] EWHC 3818 (QB) [1] – which has only just been published – Mr Justice Martin Spencer said there was “a significant public interest” in allowing contempt cases such as this to proceed.

This was “in an effort to stem the industry which appears to have grown up to make fraudulent claims arising out of road traffic accidents, and in respect of which all members of the public pay, whether through their increased insurance premiums for road insurance or, in the case of this particular applicant, in the form of increased fares.”

While he said he would not comment on the merits of the application, he added: “I have no doubt that the applicant can and does establish a strong case”.

The judge continued: “The fact is that, on the evidence which I have recited, it is arguable on behalf of the applicant that this was, effectively, a conspiracy by both respondents to bring a fraudulent claim by convincing… the medical expert that the accident had been significantly more serious than it was… and that this was then perpetuated through witness statements and evidence given in court.”

The applicant had argued that there was “a strong public interest in committal proceedings being allowed to proceed to send a clear message to the public that this sort of fraudulent behaviour is not to be tolerated”.

Also, the company argued that it was “the publicity and the public nature of proceedings such as this which, and only which, has a chance of getting home to the public”.

Spencer J dismissed the arguments made on behalf of the respondents.

He rejected an argument that bringing the application 14 months after the original ruling was oppressive. Although closer to too long than too short to give the matter proper consideration, the delay was nevertheless reasonable, he ruled.

Equally, he said that in this case he agreed with the applicant’s submission that no warning was required, because the respondents had persisted in their claim after the CCTV footage was disclosed.

The judge disputed that having to pay for the cost of the proceedings had been, in itself, a punishment and that it would be unfair to punish the respondents further with contempt proceedings.