Insurer Admiral has been attacked by a High Court judge for conduct “redolent of an era which had begun to fade into history” even before the Woolf reforms came into force.
Mr Justice Edis was ruling on a road traffic accident case in which a driver insured by Admiral denied liability for three years following a conviction for driving without due care and attention.
Edis J said the conduct of Thomas Forrett and his insurer was “designed to secure an advantage” to which they were not entitled.
“It did so at risk of causing substantially more work and thus cost to themselves and all other parties. This is redolent of an era which had begun to fade into history even before 26th April 1999 when the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 came into force.”
Ruling in Davies v Forrett and others  EWHC 1761 (QB), Edis J recounted that Daniel Davies was a passenger being driven to work by Ryan Partington, who decided to overtake three cars at once.
One of them, a Vectra, decided it wanted to overtake as well, and Mr Partington’s car braked sharply, causing it to veer off the road into a tree.
Edis J said both Mr Davies and Mr Partington “sustained serious injuries”, but Mr Forrett, in the Vectra, “drove on to his place of work”.
The court heard that the police investigated and recovered CCTV which showed Mr Forrett’s Vectra “very near the scene of the accident, very near the time of the accident” and that he arrived for work “very soon afterwards”.
Despite the very strong evidence against him, Mr Forrett denied the car was his Vectra but he was convicted of driving without due care and attention at the local magistrates’ court.
Edis J said: “On that basis, if the magistrates convicted him correctly, he was guilty of disgraceful behaviour. He had played a part in causing a very serious accident, driven away from it, and then lied on oath to avoid its consequences.
“Obviously if he continued to adopt that stance in any subsequent civil proceedings, such conduct might become relevant to costs.”
Edis J said the particulars of claim were served in May 2014 and relied on the conviction, while Mr Forrett’s insurers admitted “that he was the driver of his red Vectra on the road on the relevant day, but denied everything else. It alleged that the accident was entirely the fault of Partington”.
He noted that in relation to the conviction, “the defence contains the following time honoured but, here as in many cases, mystifying words: ‘The defendant admits the conviction referred to in the particulars of claim but denies its relevance to the civil proceedings.'”
Meanwhile Southern Rock, which insured Mr Partington’s car, had tried and failed from June 2012 to May 2014 to get a “straight answer” from the solicitors acting for Admiral, Horwich Farrelly, as to whether Mr Forrett was denying liability or not.
The judge said: “I have not set out above the detail of the lengthy correspondence between Sintons on behalf of Southern Rock and Horwich Farrelly on behalf of Forrett, although I have referred to the main dates.
“On one side the correspondence is appropriate throughout. Initially it is polite and constructive but becomes more insistent as time wears on. Almost every letter refers to the mounting costs caused by the refusal of Admiral on behalf of Forrett to accept his obvious fault…
“Moving from the correspondence to the steps taken in the proceedings, it appears to me that the same approach continued to govern the conduct of Forrett’s case, despite CPR 1.3. This imposes a duty on the parties to help the court to further the overriding objective. This is a duty and not an exhortation. Breach of duty is a significant matter which is directly relevant to costs issues…
“In contrast to the behaviour of Forrett, Davies and Southern Rock both conducted themselves sensibly, in my judgment.”
It was agreed that Mr Davies was entitled to an order that Mr Forrett pay the costs of bringing the claim against him.
Edis J ordered that Mr Davies was also entitled to an order against Mr Forrett for the costs of suing Mr Partington and Southern Rock and Mr Forrett will pay for the cost of defending those proceedings, which the judge said were only brought because of uncertainty “connived at by Forrett”.
The judge said there would no order relating to Mr Partington’s costs of the claim, but Mr Forrett would also pay for Southern Rock’s costs of a successful part 20 claim against Mr Partington, seeking a declaration that it had liability to him because the car’s policy did not cover a named driver commuting to work.
Both Admiral and Horwich Farrelly declined to comment.