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Editorial: Understanding the Number of Dishonest Claims - Aidan Ellis, Temple Garden Chambers

10/10/17. For a number of years in personal injury litigation, issues arising from dishonest or exaggerated claims have been growing in importance and profile. Not a week seems to pass without an article in the national news drawing attention to the number of dishonest claims. Understanding the true number of fraudulent claims is important, not least because it informs policy decisions in this area of law. But it is difficult objectively to assess the scale of the problem, not least due to difficulties of definition or perception.

As an example, in order to keep up to date on gossip, I am a member of a facebook group for parents in my home town. Recently, someone posted a warning to the group saying that they had been the victim of an induced road traffic accident on a particular stretch of road between two local roundabouts. There were more than eighty replies to the post. Some were general expressions of concern. A good number, however, were from other local people who reported a similar experience. My town is not particularly unusual. It is not in one of the crash for cash hotspots recently identified by the Daily Mail. How then are we to explain the number of people reporting on social media that they have been targeted by induced road traffic accidents? The simplest explanation is that dishonest claims are now so prevalent that a significant proportion of people in any given community have been affected. But the alternative is that awareness of insurance scams has reached a level where a significant proportion of people believe that they have been targeted, when in fact there was a genuine accident.

It is worth asking how official statistics of the number of dishonest claims are compiled. The ABI’s detected fraud statistics appear to be based not only on cases where fraud has been expressly found by a Court but also, to some extent, on ‘scenarios in which it is believed that fraud is likely to be involved’. The difficulty is obvious. Absent a final determination by the Court, it remains a matter of judgment whether an individual case is likely to involve fraud or not and no assessment based on ‘scenarios’ can be completely accurate. But it may be that there is no other way to measure the number of cases. To restrict the numbers to those in which fundamental dishonesty was expressly found at trial would understate the numbers considerably, because it would exclude all cases where the claimants discontinue or disappear in the face of overwhelming evidence of fraud.

It may be that only tentative conclusions can be drawn about the true number of fraudulent claims and the statistics cannot be treated as wholly reliable. For the practitioner, there remains no substitute for detailed assessment of each case on its merits (not necessarily by reference to scenarios in which fraud is thought to be likely). Growing public awareness of types of fraud, make it all the more important to take detailed factual statements at an early stage; experience suggests that a driver’s perception that an accident was induced does not always tally with an objective review of the evidence.

Aidan Ellis
Temple Garden Chambers

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